The power of the digital community in diabetes management

Harriet Smith, registered dietitian & health writer, explains how digital connectivity with people in a similar position can help diabetes patients.

The World Health Organisation estimates that over 382 million people worldwide (including over four million people in the UK) have diabetes. Dealing with a new diagnosis of diabetes can feel scary and isolating, and only three in ten people living with diabetes feel in control of their condition. Diabetes Digital Media (DDM) is redefining diabetes management through their evidence-based and award-winning digital health solutions. Their global diabetes community Diabetes.co.uk is an online community of people living with diabetes, family members, friends, healthcare professionals and carers, offering their own support and first-hand knowledge. Since the launch in 2003, Diabetes.co.uk has evolved to become Europe’s largest online diabetes community, with over 311,604 people sharing their experiences of diabetes through the online forum.

In the last six months users of the forum have posted in excess of 135,000 messages and over 21,000 new users have registered for free support (an average of 150 a day). The community forum comprises of those with type 1 (30%) and type 2 diabetes (60%), or people with experience of diabetes, such as healthcare professionals, relatives and carers from around the globe. The top five countries using the forum are the UK (80%), USA (3%), India (2%), Ireland (2%) and Australia (1%). Users can participate in forum chats involving various diabetes-related topics such as diabetes and diet, insulin pumps, exercise and mental health. Users of the forum say that the support and advice received has helped them to boost their confidence in managing their diabetes, improved their blood sugar levels, reduced their diabetes medications and even helped them to avoid insulin.

Recent statistics from Diabetes.co.uk show that seven out of 10 users improved their understanding of diabetes through using the forum. Almost half of users improved their confidence in managing their diabetes, with 44% reporting an improvement in the blood sugar control since joining the forum. A study published in 2015 compared the impact of different social media platforms with diabetes.co.uk for peer support. They found that more people living with diabetes turned to diabetes.co.uk for advice and support rather than Facebook or Twitter. Along with Facebook, the forum was also the friendliest and most effective platform for social interaction and peer support for those living with diabetes due to its user base, design, and self-moderating communities.

In addition to the online forum, DDM have developed the award-winning Low Carb Program; a structured behaviour change programme for people with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and obesity which launched in 2015. It enables members to access educational materials, monitor their health and receive support from an online network. The Low Carb Program is available on iOS, Android, Apple Watch, and as a virtual reality experience on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Published research has shown that the Low Carb Program is successful in achieving glycaemic control, weight loss and reducing hypoglycemic medications. At 1-year, the average member loses 7.4kg and reduces their HbA1c by 1.2% with 39% of patients placing their HbA1c under the threshold for type 2 diabetes diagnosis. The Low Carb Program is clinically effective — 40% of people eliminate at least one medication from their treatment regime and one in four people place their type 2 diabetes into remission.Earlier this year it was approved by NHS Digital for inclusion in the NHS apps library and last summer the digital health intervention received a CE Mark, leading to registration with the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It has also gained QISMET approval so it can be prescribed on the NHS.

DDM recently relaunched their Hypo Program; the world’s first structured education program to improve hypoglycaemic (also called a ‘hypo’ or low blood sugar) awareness. It was created with and made freely available through a partnership with Novo Nordisk, and is specifically designed to help educate people about managing the risks and challenges of hypoglycaemia. There are different e-Learning modules for people affected by diabetes, including patients, relatives, teachers and healthcare professionals. The Hypo Program currently has 235,893 users and the average pass mark is 90%. Recent statistics from DDM found that after taking the course, 88% of people know how to spot a hypo, 89% know how to treat a hypo and 63% had fewer hypos at 6-month follow up.

Additionally, DDM have developed Type 2 Testing – structured digital education for self-management of blood glucose for people with type 2 diabetes. For healthcare professionals there is the Type 2 Diabetes and a Low GI Diet e-Learning course developed in collaboration with NHS Innovator of the Year Dr David Unwin. The module was chosen as the Royal College of GP’s (RCGP) course of the month National Diabetes Awareness Month 2018 and has proven to be popular. The 30-minute online course has already been completed by 791 RCGP healthcare professionals and statistics from the RCGP showed that after completing the module, user’s knowledge of diabetes almost doubled.

Finally, DDM have developed several apps which are available on iOS, Android and Kindle. These include the Diabetes.co.uk Forum app, which has been downloaded over 140,000 times, the Diabetes Recipe app – which has been downloaded over 110,000 times, and the Diabetes PA app, which helps users to record personal health data including blood sugar levels, medications and body weight.

DDM provide scalable, engaging and effective digital solutions with peer-reviewed, published health and engagement outcomes. DDM were recently included on the prestigious NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) fellowship (along with DDM’s Low Carb Program), which is a testament to their hard work and dedication to helping those with diabetes. DDM are proving that their digital communities and health solutions are powerful, scalable, engaging and effective. They’re being used globally by health agencies, payers and governments and most importantly, they’re helping patients around the world to improve their glycaemic control, lose weight and reduce their diabetes medications.



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