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Digital health programmes for diabetes - are they effective?

Professor Jeremy Krebs, EDOR researcher and Endocrinologist at Capital and Coast District Health Board, is part of a research team who have evaluated the effectiveness of a digital health programme for self-management of diabetes and prediabetes.

The research team, led by Professor Diana Sarfati and Dr Melissa McLeod (School of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington), carried out a randomised controlled trial of the Beta Me/Melon digital health programme in 429 individuals with diabetes or prediabetes, recruited from 25 primary care practices in Wellington and the Waikato. Both urban and rural participants took part in the trial of this online support programme, with over 98% of participants finishing the study.

The trial aimed to assess how effective the digital self-management programme was for those with diabetes or prediabetes, compared with usual care, as measured by changes in Hb1Ac and weight over 12 months. The study found small improvements in HbA1c and weight at 4 months but these had largely disappeared by 12 months, with no treatment or ethnic group achieving clinically important improvements in glycaemic control (HbA1c) or weight by the end of the trial.

In addition to the clinical data, a number of other assessments were undertaken, including self-reported measures of quality of life.  Interestingly, the treatment group receiving support through the online programme reported a reduction in quality of life at 12 months, with study authors surmising that this could be due to frustration with lack of weight loss and glycaemic control improvements while on the intervention programme.

Based upon these findings, the researchers conclude that the BetaMe/Melon programme in its current form cannot be recommended for use in the management of diabetes or prediabetes. It underscores the importance of carrying out robust evaluations, such as randomised controlled trials, for any technology-assisted self-management programmes. 

Read the paper

Impact of a comprehensive digital health programme on HbA1c and weight after 12 months for people with diabetes and prediabetes: a randomised controlled trial. Diabetologia, 4 September, 2020

Diabetes research at EDOR

Find out more about the diabetes research being carried out by EDOR researchers.