Health apps could make life easier for diabetes patients

A health app on a smartphone
Smartphone apps could help patients take control of various health matters Credit: Philips

People with long-term health problems know they take a lot of dedication to manage; you almost have to be your own doctor. Luckily, we are entering an age when your smartphone can take most of the strain.

Like many other people who live with type 1 diabetes, Kim Tas has to make about 200 decisions a day related to her lifelong disease. From the moment she wakes up to the time she goes to sleep, her diabetes is always on her mind. Even sleep can be disrupted by her condition.

Whether it’s checking her blood sugar levels or calculating how her next meal will affect them, there is something she needs to be aware of every hour if she is to manage it properly.  

Ms Tas says living with her form of diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition caused by her body not making enough insulin, is a huge responsibility.

“You have to test multiple times a day starting first thing in the morning until you go to bed. You have to estimate how much insulin to inject, based on your assessment of blood sugars, activity, stress and carb intake ” she says. “But that’s not even the worst of it. It’s the psychological aspect of having to think about it the whole day.”

Now a new health app is being developed to make life easier for Ms Tas and other diabetics. It will allow people to manage their conditions more closely, giving them a personal approach to their treatment.

It is expected that shortly apps may be prescribed by doctors, much in the way that drugs are prescribed

The app will allow diabetics to access a vast range of information, from catching up on the latest research, to reviewing their vitals, to sourcing a new low carb dinner recipe. Experts say this app would empower them to manage their disease. All the data they gather every day – for instance, their blood glucose levels before meal times – will be securely stored in the cloud, so patients, but also their caregivers, can access it at any time via their smartphone or other device.

One of the app’s champions is Ms Tas’s father, Jeroen Tas, chief executive of connected care and health informatics at Philips. He believed there was a better way of bringing all the existing data and tools together to make managing the disease simpler.

And he was not alone in this vision. Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands is seen as a focus of expertise for diabetes care and applying emerging technologies that enable patients to take a lead role in managing their care.

Radboud REshape Innovation Centre in Nijmegen is working closely with Philips on the project to help those who are insulin-dependent. “We’re trying to create an ecosystem that is based on a mobile app where people with type 1 diabetes can manage their condition more fully during the day,” says director Lucien Engelen.

Health apps will allow diabetes patients to better manage their condition Credit: Philips

“We wanted to come up with a personalised solution. People with type 1 diabetes can not only track their values but they can also reach out to healthcare professionals 24/7, their community and other patients with the same condition and to better manage their own disease.”

John Wookey, executive vice-president of Salesforce Industries, a leading social applications company that is involved in developing the diabetes app, agrees. He says that rather than treating diabetes simply as an illness, the app could focus more on what he calls “wellness management”. The data the app collects will build up a complete picture of the patient’s health both instantly and over time. This means that even a subtle change can be immediately picked up and acted upon.

“This application will transform the daily experience that people with diabetes have and most importantly bring the patient into that process,” says Mr Wookey.

Experts predict that more people will manage their health using some of the tens of thousands of smartphone apps that have already been developed or new ones yet to be launched. It is expected that shortly apps, based on clinical evidence, may be prescribed by doctors, much in the way that drugs are prescribed.

With the NHS predicting that £5 billion a year will be spent on self management of the rising number of chronic conditions by 2018, a new way of treating them needs to be found.

One increasingly common problem is obstructive sleep apnoea, where the soft tissues in the throat relax during sleep, blocking the airways. This impacts proper sleep for millions of people. It can be treated with continuous-positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices that ensure a flow of air through the nose.

All the data will be stored in the cloud, so patients and caregivers can access it at any time via their smartphone

The Philips DreamWear mask can be used together with the Philips DreamStation CPAP device which looks like a bedside alarm clock. A freely available mobile app, DreamMapper, connects to the DreamStation and allows patients to take some control over their condition. The mobile app shows how well the patient slept and how well the mask fitted. DreamMapper guides and helps patients stay motivated through custom goals and constant feedback. This strengthens their ability to self-manage their condition.

As for Ms Tas, she can clearly see the positives of an app as a way to manage her diabetes.

“Everyone is so different and everyone has different issues, and they change over time,” she says. “I think it’s important that you can take control of your own health and have the ability to access your own information and data to better understand and control your condition. Right now I can’t see that because each of the care givers has the data somewhere in a file and none or little is shared with patients and other care givers.

“I think it would give me and my whole healthcare team more insight if we can get all the information in one place.”

Find out about obstructive sleep apnoea and the DreamMapper app at