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02 March 2021

Researchers at James Cook University have developed a new health App designed to be a hit with people living with diabetes in rural and remote areas.

Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine member, and JCU Associate Professor Bunmi Malau-Aduli said while there were similar mobile health Apps on the market, their research found many of these had low engagement rates.

Unlike some other Apps, their research had involved people living with diabetes, clinicians, and diabetes educators, to find out what works best and what may be lacking, and resulted in the development of the ‘My Care Hub’ App.

Lead researcher, biochemist and Public Health PhD student Mary Adu said mobile applications offered a convenient, viable and easily accessible resource for patients to access on-going self-management education and support.

However, they found that the lack of consistent user engagement was a significant and challenging limitation of self-management Apps for adults living with Type I and Type 2 diabetes.

“We undertook international studies, and we found common gaps in skills and self-efficacy for diabetes self-management such as the impact of stress on diabetes, exercise planning to avoid hypoglycaemia, and interpretation of blood glucose patterns,” Adu said.

“The most preferred diabetes App features were visual analytics, a food nutrient database, blood glucose trackers and personalised education.”

The work spanned three phases of research including systematic review, cross sectional analytical studies, usability and pilot trialling as part of the total project, to gather enough relevant information in order to develop the user-friendly App.

The team, made up of medical educator Associate Professor Bunmi Malau-Aduli, endocrinologist Professor Usman Malabu, geneticist Associate Professor Aduli Malau-Aduli, and diabetes educator Mary Adu, is continuing to look at the health outcomes of users before and after trialling the ‘My Care Hub’ App, which was developed by tech experts of the JCU eResearch Centre.

The App allows for educational content, which considers the needs of the end-user and is based on empirical data, often lacking in many health apps.

The researchers worked with Diabetes Australia to help engage 217 Australians and international participants from Europe, North America, and Asia, who are living with diabetes.

Professor Malau-Aduli said the results showed the App’s potential as a behaviour change intervention tool, particularly because a high percentage of the participants said it had eased their self-care efforts, and improved their engagement with diabetes self-management activities such as blood glucose monitoring, physical exercise, and healthy eating.

Participants also suggested additional functionalities such as including more access to analytic data, automated data transmission from the blood glucose meter, and periodic update of meals and corresponding nutrients to further enhance engagement with the App.

Professor Malau-Aduli said a source of further funding would be required, in order to progress to testing with a larger randomised controlled trial, before development for commercial purposes.

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