Diabetes patients are empowered by technology

Technology and health care are a little closer to becoming complete partners.

Diabetes patients at the Charles H. Best Diabetes Centre for Children & Youth in Whitby, Ont., are using technology to help organize and calculate their medicine dosages and blood sugar levels.

Compaq Canada and OPTIUM Digital Solutions have partnered and donated hardware and software for this project.

Compaq donated $50,000 worth of Aero PDAs and OPTIUM programmed them with its Diabetes Self Management Network software.

The trial involves 20 patients who use the Aeros to monitor blood sugar levels, insulin doses, exercise, meal plans and high and low sugar episodes.

The program, and the Best Centre, focuses on people with Type 1 diabetes, according to Marlene Grass, founder and executive director of the centre.

“People are (usually) very young when they get Type 1 diabetes,” Grass explained. “The Aero device will help provide a close relationship between patients and their families and their health care providers.”

She noted that in the past patients would have to take out pen and paper and record numbers on a chart, and then perform calculations based on them. The results would then be faxed or phoned.

“Now they have state-of-the-art technology. They can input the message to us through a secure Web site,” Grass said. The palm devices are Web-enabled, so patients can send and receive information automatically.

Grass stated another bonus is the technology is “cool,” which offsets some of the stigma associated with diabetes.

John Challinor, manager of corporate and public relations for Compaq Canada, said it is Compaq’s hope that a blend of technology and health care like this one will lead to a cure for diabetes.

He noted this kind of use for technology could be broadened across the health care system and urged private companies to make healthcare a priority.

“We want more government funding, but we say don’t ‘Raise taxes.’ Do the math: it’s really up to private industry to support arts and charity,” Challinor said. “The other spin-off we are hoping for is that other health organizations will see how this technology can be used.”

At this point Compaq has donated 40 machines, but will eventually bring that number up to 100.

Nicholas Zamora, partner with OPTIUM Digital Solutions in Toronto, said two years ago OPTIUM realized that handheld technology combined with the Web would make a difference to how health care would grow.

OPTIUM took the data that was needed for managing diabetes and, with the help of the Best centre, developed a system to acquire that information.

“To have good diabetes management, you need to have good data management,” Zamora said.

Mary-Leigh Lusted, whose son Douggie is using the Web interface from home or any on-line desktop to manage his diabetes, said the software and hardware have given patients more independence.

“One of the things we use a lot is the graphing,” she said, explaining the software allows users to look at different pieces of information in a graphical way. “To say a person spends hours each day managing this disease is not an exaggeration.”

The OPTIUM software lets users graph any information, including high and low episodes, which can help parents and patients predict what time of day or which meals are dangerous.

The Lusteds are waiting to get a PDA, but in the meantime – for the first time – will be a little less worried about taking a family vacation.

“As long as there is Web access, we can keep track of all of Douggie’s levels and keep in contact with a health care professional,” Lusted said.

She noted they were able to look at the information in a usable way, where the pen and paper chart just didn’t allow for that analysis.

Zamora agreed, noting the real strength of this project is the ability to bring together results and then report them. The next step, he said, was to make the data warehousing more predictive in nature. “We want to continue pushing patient empowerment.”