Empowering People to Self-Manage Their Diabetes Using Digital Technology

An ambitious vision is being realised by the West of England Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), together with Enterprise Services and people with diabetes, using easy-to-use digital technology. Diabetes Digital Coach has the potential to improve health outcomes and lower NHS costs by enabling individuals to manage their condition on a daily basis using digital tools, while also reducing the risk of longer term health complications.

Diabetes Digital Coach brings together apps on one platform as a one-stop-shop.  People with diabetes have secure access and ownership of their personal medical data that they can choose to share with healthcare workers and family members. The vision is big and the outcomes profound, as one user comments:  “It means patients living longer lives:  In 5- 10 years’ time they can still be fit and healthy without having gone blind or losing a limb.”

The outcomes of this exemplar of medical self-management, which is enabled by the Internet of Things, also has exciting ramifications for other areas of health. Elizabeth Dymond, Deputy Director of Enterprise at the West of England AHSN and project lead for Diabetes Digital Coach, talked to me about its potential at Discover London. “If we prove that this model works well in diabetes, we can extend it to other long term conditions, other health services and other countries” she said.

Elizabeth explained how the West of England AHSN recruited partners and citizens to develop the Diabetes Digital Coach, which has been selected as one of seven NHS test beds for health self-management. In its health region alone, 120,000 people have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and the testbed intends to enrol 10% – around 12,000 people. “We can see how the apps and tools get used together in healthcare settings, how citizens interact with them and how they can improve life chances.”

People with Type 1 diabetes have to make decisions daily about the food they consume, the amount and timings of insulin injections and how and when to exercise. As one person explains: “It’s like walking a tight rope, while juggling blood tests and insulin injections.” With their expert knowledge, people with diabetes have been integral in shaping the Digital Coach vision. “We’re making it easier for people to manage their condition 24 x 7 in ways that suit them individually,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth anticipates that Diabetes Digital Coach has the potential to make savings for the NHS. “This is a feasibility project and at present we have early stage data around seeing how tools fit into existing clinical pathways, and how healthcare professionals adapt their services. By giving people with diabetes more control, this should result in fewer people contacting GP practices for advice and fewer A&E visits. The Coach is designed to support staff’s clinical practice, enabling them to prioritise face-to-face time with those who need it most.”

A future option for Diabetes Digital Coach is to scale it to other countries and conditions: “That’s what digital does really well,” says Elizabeth. “We can do face-to-face where needed – but there is also the option of digital.”

In all of this the user has to be in the driving seat and take a positive role, and the quality of digital tools and the assurance of data privacy makes this a more compelling proposition. Enterprise Services has also played a key role as partner, as Elizabeth explains: “ES has been involved from the very beginning and shaped the project. They were good at bringing in expertise when we needed it.”

See how in this video how Digital Transformation is Revolutionizing Healthcare.

Helen Beckett

Author: Helen Beckett

Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.