Why prevention matters on World Diabetes Day 

On World Diabetes Day, Charlie Fox, general manager at Omron Healthcare UK, discusses how digital technologies and can help patients improve their wellbeing and relive pressure on the NHS. 

The impact high blood pressure can have on those living with diabetes, may come as a surprise to some on World Diabetes Day. A study conducted by Oxford University showed that people with high blood pressure have up to a 58% greater risk of developing diabetes[1] – a demographic that is increasing every year, according to the latest research by Diabetes UK.

Also in line with these findings, research shows that the number of people living with the disease in the UK specifically has more than doubled in the last twenty years[2]. Worldwide, diabetes affects 422 million people according to the World Health Organisation, and is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation[3].

And it’s important not to forget the mental impact living with diabetes can also have. According to NICE, people who are diagnosed with a chronic physical health problem such as diabetes are three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people without it[4]. The reality is that the majority of people will have come into contact with this condition in some capacity – whether that’s living and managing diabetes on a day-to-day basis themselves, or knowing someone else that it is impacted, be it a friend or relative.

Yet, how much do people really know about diabetes? Despite it being widespread among the global population, people have varying levels of understanding and insight into the causes, symptoms and most importantly, what can be done to prevent it from occurring. People are often surprised to find that hypertension is a great risk factor for accelerating the progression of diabetes for example, and that the risk of a cardiovascular event is two to four times higher in people with this disease[5].

On the positive side, blood pressure control can lead to significant decreases in cardiovascular events within just a six-month period[6], yet unfortunately, not everyone will be aware of this.

A first step to tackle this problem is self-monitoring on a regular basis, and it is an essential part of equipping individuals with the tools to take action and increase their chances of living longer and healthier lives.

Preventative care is therefore essential to combating diabetes; however, in order to achieve ‘predictive prevention’, the adoption of digital technology for home monitoring is critical. Consumers’ growing fascination with tracking their health it’s a fact: according to Kantar Millward Brown, 12.1% of Europeans from UK, Germany, France and Italy were planning to buy a wearable in 2017[7]. Clearly the appetite is there from people to take control of their lifestyles if they are equipped with the technology needed to do so.

However, despite many leaning in to a healthy way of living, the cost of hypertension and other cardiovascular treatments, which are increasing through obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles, are still putting the NHS under enormous financial pressure. This is demonstrated by the fact that physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of global mortality, and many of the leading causes of ill health in today’s society, such as coronary heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, could be prevented if more inactive people were to become active, according to research conducted the World Health Organisation[8].

In order to alleviate the healthcare system of this cost, people must fundamentally recognise the importance of preventative digital technology to reduce acute suffering for those already living with the condition, as well as its role in measuring the vital metrics of a healthy lifestyle as part of a strategy that could prevent those not yet impacted from developing it.

Accurately measuring blood pressure at home is just one example of a ‘better choice’ action people can take that could lead to significant health benefits. As of 2018 the ESC/ESH Guidelines For the Management of Arterial Hypertension recommends to base the diagnosis of hypertension on out-of-office measurement with home blood pressure monitors. Given their particular physical conditions, measuring high blood pressure in diabetic patients might be a bit of a challenge[9]. For this reason, diabetic patients need to be sure they are choosing clinically-validated devices for use in diabetic population, which guarantee the same level of accuracy they would get at their doctor’s office. Not only this, but the latest mobile apps also now enable people to track their activity and relevant health history on the go, meaning valuable personal data insights are easily accessible, at the touch of a fingertip.

Not only does preventative digital technology play a key role in reducing suffering and helping people make less compromises in their lives, it has the potential to free up government medical funds and resources so that they can be used elsewhere. On a human level, preventative technologies such as home monitoring devices could alleviate pressures on doctors for example, by enabling patients to take control of their measurements themselves. A recent survey revealed that the average GP sees 41 patients a day according to Pulse, and that in some cases, doctors even reported conducting over one hundred consultations in a single day[10]. With technology empowering patients to take care of preventative measures and vital health measurements over time in the comfort of their own home, this could give valuable time back to both doctors and nurses, helping combat increased work-loads and the stress and anxiety that often results from such time pressures.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock addressed the International Association of National Public Health Institutes earlier this month, highlighting his vision to help people make healthier choices. Illustrating how prevention is better than a cure, we are reminded of the truth in this statement when we consider what can be gained when patients are empowered to play a role in this process – not just for the benefit of themselves, but society at large[11].

[1] Emdin CA et al. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66:1552-1562

[2] Taken from https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/diabetes-prevalence-statistics

[3] WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. Global report on diabetes. 2016. ISBN 978 92 4 156525

[4] Taken from https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-depression.html

[5] Deshpande AD et al. Phys Ther. 2008;88:1254-1264.

[6] Parati G et al. Diabetes Care. 2011;34:S297–S303

[7] https://www.kantarworldpanel.com/global/News/Nearly-16-of-US-Consumers-and-9-in-EU4-Now-Own-Wearables

[8] World Health Organisation. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO
Press; 2010

[9] Chahine, Mirna N et al. “Validation of BP devices QardioArm® in the general population and Omron M6 Comfort® in type II diabetic patients according to the European Society of Hypertension International Protocol (ESH-IP)” Medical devices (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 11 11-20. 27 Dec. 2017

[10] Found in https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/gps-seeing-too-many-patients-put-safety-at-risk-hspw3jqlr

[11] Found in https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prevention-is-better-than-cure-matt-hancocks-speech-to-ianphi


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