ORLANDO — Though teens use technology and social media for entertainment and social interaction, they do not yet trust the format for diabetes support, according to a survey presented at the American Association of Diabetes Educators Annual Meeting.
“Teens are so tied into social networking, but not for diabetes,” Shelagh Mulvaney, PhD, associate professor at Vanderbilt University, said. “However, current use levels do not represent the potential interest or motivation of adolescents in sharing and helping others through social diabetes experiences.”
Online survey results
Mulvaney presented an online survey of 175 adolescents with type 1 diabetes who were recruited from the Vanderbilt clinic and a website, Children with Diabetes. The average age was 14.5 years; 87% were white; 60% were using a pump; HbA1c was 8.9% on average, and mean duration of diabetes was 5.5 years. Their parents were also surveyed.
Researchers surveyed the teens on their use of the following nine technology outlets for diabetes problem-solving: social networking, online resources, patient portals for provider communication, meter or pump trend review, text messaging glucose values, digital logbook, alarms and reminders for self-care, carbohydrate counting digital tools and bolus calculation tools or apps.
Use ranged from almost daily use for bolus calculators and once-a-month for carb counting apps to almost never for diabetes social networking and texting of glucose values, Mulvaney reported.
More than half of the respondents said they use text messaging to help manage their diabetes. Twenty percent text every day while most said it was about two to three times per week. Of those that text, 46% said they send family their glucose values, 23% get reminders from family and 19% said they talk about diabetes with friends.
Looking at mobile apps, Mulvaney said 78% of respondents owned a smartphone, but only 54% reported using mobile apps for diabetes. And although those apps helped them manage their diabetes, the teens said apps did not help them stay connected to others.
General, diabetes social media use
Mulvaney showed that while 57% of the teens surveyed use Facebook for general use, only 23% use it for diabetes interaction; Twitter was used by 27% of respondents for general use but only 10% used it for diabetes. All other social media sites — YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumbler, Google+ and others — had less than 10% use for diabetes.
The teens gave the following reasons for not using the available technologies to improve their diabetes care: “Never thought about it;” “Don’t know;” “Boring;” “No time;” “Mom does it for me;” “Don’t like to talk about diabetes;” and “Face-to-face is better.”
Mulvaney reported that the teens displayed a cautious nature when it came to diabetes communications. Sixty percent were uncomfortable sharing online with friends who do not have diabetes and the same percentage were careful about who saw their diabetes posts; 69% said it takes a person with diabetes to truly understand them.
“They’re not using social technologies for diabetes. And this, generally speaking of course, reflects that teenagers with type 1 often don’t know another teen with type 1 diabetes or don’t know them well enough to communicate in this way,” Mulvaney said.
Open to sharing, helping others
Conversely, Mulvaney said the same teens were open to sharing and helping others with diabetes: 75% said they would share their diabetes experiences in order to help others with diabetes; 72% have shared something about diabetes with another person and were later glad they did so; 69% said they could learn from other teens with diabetes while 68% said they know things that could help others with diabetes.
“There was some caution in sharing, yet strong interest in helping others,” Mulvaney said. “We feel that this is very informative in terms of our next steps in creating a safe place that allows them to share and help. They want to do those things but they’re not doing them.”
For more information: Mulvaney S. F08. Presented at: The American Association of Diabetes Educators Annual Meeting 2014; August 6-9, 2014; Orlando, Fla.
Disclosure: Mulvaney reported no relevant financial disclosures. The research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).