Can a self-management app help people with type 2 diabetes?

The ACBRD was involved in testing the benefit of the My Diabetes Coach (MDC) program

By Shaira Baptista

People living with type 2 diabetes need ongoing support to manage this complex condition. But most health systems do not have the resources to deliver such care in person. Diabetes self-management apps have become popular in recent years. They have the potential to provide support to large numbers of people, and at low cost. But do they actually work?

‘My Diabetes Coach’ (MDC) was designed for adults with type 2 diabetes. It is based on an effective program known as ‘Telephone Linked Care’ and was designed by Prof Brian Oldenburg (University of Melbourne) and colleagues. The results of the MDC trial are published in JMIR by a team of researchers including the ACBRD’s Prof Jane Speight and Shaira Baptista.

At the heart of the MDC app is an ‘embodied conversational agent’. This is a human-like character that speaks in a realistic way. The person with diabetes has a weekly ‘chat’ with the agent. The ‘chat’ can cover checking glucose levels, healthy eating, physical activity, taking medications and footcare. Each person with diabetes who took part in the trial received support based on their GP’s advice. They also had access to a printed user guide, online diabetes resources and a glucose meter that linked to the app via Bluetooth.

Participants in the intervention arm could use the MDC program for up to 12 months. Participants in the control arm continued with their usual care. At 12 months, both groups had improved HbA1c (average glucose levels over the past 8-12 weeks). However, people who used the MDC program had greater increases in their quality of life.

The researchers conclude that the MDC program has benefits. It can now be made available to people with type 2 diabetes. They also recommend changes to increase how people engage with the app and to improve health outcomes.

Gong E, Baptista S, Russell A, Scuffham P, Riddell M, Speight J, Bird D, Williams E, Lotfaliany M, Oldenburg B. My Diabetes Coach, a Mobile App–Based Interactive Conversational Agent to Support Type 2 Diabetes Self-Management: Randomized Effectiveness-Implementation Trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2020;22(11):e20322 URL: https://www.jmir.org/2020/11/e20322