Issue: May 2015
May 01, 2015
3 min read
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Mobile apps allow more accessible management of diabetes

Issue: May 2015
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In the advent of mobile health applications, gaps in communication between patients and their health care providers have been bridged. These applications are now allowing researchers to gather much needed data on some of the most common diseases in the United States, including diabetes.

GlucosSuccess App

Apple Inc. recently unveiled an open-source software platform —ResearchKit — allowing iPhone users to participate in research studies for diabetes, among some of the other most common diseases affecting Americans today.

“iOS apps already help millions of customers track and improve their health,” Jeff Williams, senior vice president of operations at Apple, said in a press release. “With hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world, we saw an opportunity for Apple to have an even greater impact by empowering people to participate in and contribute to medical research.”

Devin Steenkamp

The GlucosSuccess app, developed by Massachusetts General Hospital, measures how diet, medications and physical activity affect glucose levels in patients with diabetes.

Apple’s ResearchKit apps are only available for U.S. iPhone users and will eventually be available in other countries, according to the release.

Other available apps

There are various other health apps for patients with diabetes available for both iPhone and Android users today.

“The apps that I use in my practice for carbohydrate and calorie counting in patients with diabetes are My Fitness Pal, Calorie Content, Calorie King and Fit Day, which also has a website — www.FitDay.com,” Devin Steenkamp, MD, fellow in endocrinology at Boston Medical Center, told Endocrine Today. “My Fitness Pal and Calorie King are nicely put together and most comprehensive. With these apps, patients are able to track their exercise and weight goals rather than just counting calories and carbohydrates.”

Many of the apps also supply the user with the fiber and fat content of the food they are consuming. The My Fitness Pal app has a calorie goal feature in which the user is able to set up a calorie goal. The app tracks the user’s weight and physical activity and then subtracts their caloric expenditure throughout the day.

“While My Fitness Pal is one of the most commonly used health apps, some of the calorie counts are not entirely accurate,” Steenkamp said. “The nutritionists that I work with agree that FitDay.com is most accurate with counting carbohydrate content. The apps are not perfect and are not totally precise, but they are useful in helping patients to track how much they are actually eating. When a patient is off track for a week, they are surprised to see how many calories they ate and how many of those calories were empty calories.”

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Continuous glucose monitoring app

Another system available for iPhone users is the FDA-approved Dexcom G4 Platinum Continuous Glucose Monitoring System with Share app.

A secure wireless connection between a patient’s Dexcom Share receiver and the Share app on the user’s iPhone allows glucose data to be transferred to apps on other mobile devices of up to five additional users. An alert is sent to all approved users if the patient’s glucose levels are abnormal.

“For patients on continuous glucose monitoring, the Dexcom Share app allows patients with diabetes to actually share their data with followers,” Steenkamp said. “While I do not think that this is something that I am going to use frequently given the complexity of having to follow a lot of patients, it is something that has become recently available and that I am exploring now.”

He said the app is more useful for family members of young children than for adults. For example, if a child with diabetes is away at camp or sleeps over a friend’s house, the parents are able to know what the glucose levels of their child are with the app.

“This is a great function, but I am not aware of its usefulness in adults as much as it is for children,” Steenkamp said.

More recently, Dexcom Inc. announced that the system will support the Apple Watch. – by Jennifer Southall

For more information:
  • Devin Steenkamp, MD, can be reached at the Department of Endocrinology, Boston Medical Center, One Boston Medical Center Place, Boston, MA 02118; email: desteenk@bu.edu.
Disclosure:
  • Steenkamp reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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