Using smartphones to boost healthy behavior against juvenile diabetes

Todd Vandenbark

medical app reviewsAs presented in a recent iMedicalApps post, Joseph Cafazzo, PhD PEng, and his colleagues at Toronto General Hospital, have developed bant (yes, it’s spelled all lowercase), a next-generation remote patient monitoring system to help adolescents afflicted with juvenile diabetes more-effectively monitor their health. Their approach to the challenge of encouraging young people to monitor their blood glucose (BG) levels is realistic and refreshing:

These are the kids that are learning independence, that are leaving the house more often, that aren’t eating right, or listening to their nagging parents. Now imagine them with a chronic illness such as diabetes. These kids are notorious for taking fewer and fewer blood glucose readings per day, eating improperly, and generally having a defiant streak in them.

Adolescents who used this device got points for compliance with the regular BG monitoring regimen, which earned them music and apps through the iTunes store. This pilot test of the system with twenty kids saw an increase in regular BG measurements of 49.5%, clearly demonstrating the need for a bigger study. The app also offered a Twitter-like microblog community capability for peer support and encouragement. Below is a video demonstrating use of the bant system.

One idea in this blog post caught my attention: their focus on developing an app to provide a solution in a way that can be clearly demonstrated:

Although we take the design and development of this smartphone platform very seriously, we aren’t interested in creating gadgets. As a research hospital, we take the opportunity cost of building such a system seriously. We need real tangible results. Hence, we spend more time and money evaluating the technologies that we develop than on building them. Our findings feed the next iteration of the technology. This is an example of evidence-based design. Consider it user-centered design on steroids.

After working for over two years to support evidence based research, it seems a natural next-step to consider applying such a standard to the development of medical devices and apps. I look forward to reading about a follow-up study on this devices.

Do you or someone you know struggle with juvenile diabetes? Would a system like this be helpful in encouraging healthy behavior? Why or why not? Tell us about it!