The One Thing Most Diabetes Apps Lack: Effective Action Prompts for Medical Emergencies

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Phone apps are a great way to help track and control your diabetes. But every app has its benefits and its pitfalls, and a recent study has shown that some of the downsides of most diabetes apps are potentially dangerous for the health of people with diabetes, because they don’t give proper information during medical emergencies.

Lum and her colleagues investigated 371 smartphone applications designed for diabetes management. All apps were listed on the 42Matters database and required users to manually enter their blood sugar levels. Researchers entered glucose levels below 70 mg/dL to simulate hypoglycemia to see how the apps would respond.

The results of the study, which were published in Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews, demonstrated that more than 80 percent of diabetes tracking apps did not offer effective directives on what to do in the case of a diabetic emergency. Most apps also failed to offer proper information on how to avoid hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

Only 217 of the 371 apps gave researchers a hypoglycemia notification when they entered hypoglycemic blood glucose numbers, and only 45 of them offered prompts telling the user what to do to correct the situation. Only 39 of the apps provided action prompts that were in line with the American Diabetes Association‘s guidelines, such as consuming carbohydrates and checking blood sugar again 15 minutes later.

“We uncovered two important problems regarding the capability of apps to support diabetes self-management. First, less than one-fifth of apps provided evidence-based steps to guide patients through hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia,” Elaine Lum, PhD, MClinPharm, BPharm, Adv Prac Pharm, senior research fellow at the Centre for Population Health Sciences of Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and colleagues wrote. “Second, the majority of apps failed to provide just-in-time bite-size diabetes self-management education to prevent frequent or severe episodes of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.”

Of course, most people with diabetes receive some sort of training or information on what to do in the case of a hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic episode. However, because symptoms of these conditions include things like confusion and inability to focus, the person may require step-by-step instructions in order to remember how to treat themselves. It’s also possible for a person experiencing a diabetic emergency to have a seizure or go into a coma, making it vital that the people around them know what to do to help.

A properly designed app could help countless people who might otherwise not know how to treat themselves or someone else during a hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic attack. We hope that app-makers will take this into account when developing future diabetes apps, but in the meantime, if you use a diabetes app, make sure it’s one that meets your needs and offers proper advice for diabetic emergencies. Please also ensure that your family and friends know what to do if you should experience a medical emergency.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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