Kiwis of all ages are living more and more of their lives online and on digital devices. Our smartphones, tablets and computers are not only being used for entertainment and connection, but also as essential tools for life. So it makes sense that researchers are now turning to the digital world to see if it can help solve health problems.
Digital health technology is the focus for one Long Terms Conditions* project aimed at improving outcomes for people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes – in particular Māori and Pacific populations, who suffer from poorer outcomes for long-term conditions than other groups.
The BetaMe project is testing an online, device-driven programme to find out if it could be an effective way to tackle one of New Zealand’s growing health issues. One quarter of New Zealand’s adult population is thought to have prediabetes, a condition which – with effective intervention – can be reversed before it develops into Type 2 diabetes.
Principal investigator Professor Diana Sarfati explains that digital health technology may provide one of these effective interventions – but evidence is needed to prove it.
“There are some gaps in the evidence relating to how effective or otherwise these kinds of interventions might be,” she says.
“There’s not really much evidence at all in relation to whether these sorts of interventions work for people with prediabetes… and very little evidence relating to Māori and Pacific peoples, and whether or not these kinds of interventions are likely to work for them.”
There’s also limited evidence relating to longer-term outcomes.
The BetaMe trial aims to gather this evidence. It’s a randomised control trial involving 430 patients who will be monitored for one year. The control group will receive normal, GP-based care for their prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
The intervention group will be using the BetaMe programme, accessible from any internet-capable device.
Participants will be measured for HbA1c and weight, as primary outcomes, along with other things such as waist circumference, blood pressure, use of medication, quality of life and self-reported self-management.
Professor Sarfati says a potential benefit of a digital solution to a long-term condition is that it helps take health care out of the surgery.
“It puts the control into the hands of the people whose health it is – into the participants’ hands themselves. We know that health costs are skyrocketing in NZ… we know that we can’t afford to keep giving more and more clinical-based healthcare. We need to be smarter about it. This is a potential approach.”
Read more about this project in Taking healthcare out of the surgery – and into patients’ hands.
* The BetaMe research project is funded by the Ministry of Health, Health Research Council of New Zealand, and Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, as part of the Long Term Conditions Partnership.