Published on 17 December 2015

Getting health updates from online sources could have benefits towards the health and wellbeing of people with diabetes.

Areas where people have more access to computers and mobile phone devices have been linked to differences in diabetes rates among ethnic groups in a recent study.

Use of online health information available as apps on home computers and smartphones is expected to play a pioneering role in future self-management for people with type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) found that South Asians are three times more likely to have type 2 diabetes than Caucasians and their study aimed to address the difference in diabetes rates among different ethnic groups.

People with access to online health apps could be more likely to reduce their chances of developing type 2 diabetes

The findings of the study were recently published in the British Journal of Nursing and looked at how information and communication technologies (ICTs), as available on computers and mobile phones, could be used to help with the delivery of nursing care, and improve health outcomes for people with diabetes.

The study looked at archived figures from the UK Data Service, and added that smoking could be especially damaging for people with diabetes.

The study found that using a home computer could be clinically beneficial for the health of South Asian people with diabetes because computer owners of that ethnic group were less likely to smoke, compared with Caucasian people with diabetes. Researchers suggested this may be due to South Asians engaging with and benefiting more from online anti-smoking campaigns.

Researchers also found that South Asian people with diabetes receiving income support were more heavily dependent on mobile phones for communication, compared to Caucasian people with the condition. This finding could be due to more cost-saving efforts amongst poor South Asian families, who may prefer not to invest in a fixed-line phone. Alternatively, South Asian people with diabetes were also found to have a better grasp of the benefits of health care delivered via mobile phone functions, such as text messaging, apps, and video chat.

Diabetes specialist nurses can use text messaging and video chat to consult with and advise people with diabetes who rely heavily on mobile devices. This means they can receive prompt and more frequent guidance on how to manage their condition, without the need to travel to a clinic or hospital for a face-to-face consultation. This could be helpful for elderly people or those on a low income who may be unable to travel, for health or financial reason.

Dr Kanayo Umeh, LJMU School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, who led the study alongside Stephanie Le-Brun Davis and Dr Michael Mackay, said: “This was the first study to shed light on the qualifying effect of ICT uptake on ethnic variations in diabetes risk, and implications for nursing care. Home computing was linked to better risk factor (cigarette smoking) control amongst South Asian people with diabetes living in terrace properties, while mobile phone dependence was characteristic of cases receiving income support. Cigarette smoking may be an especially important topic when delivering diabetes care to South Asian cases from computer-equipped terrace homes.

“Given the increasingly widespread use of computers and mobile devices in the general population, any connection between this trend and diabetes rates across ethnic groups may provide a much needed opportunity to reduce the higher diabetes rates in ethnic minority communities, via technological means.”

Dr Michael Mackay, LJMU School of Computer Science, added: “As smartphones become increasingly ubiquitous among all age-groups and across societies, they offer a massive potential to help us monitor and manage our health on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, the increasing range of apps already available across all devices, and the internet capabilities offered by 4G (and 5G in the future) means that eHealth [electronic health] can only become a more effective tool going forward.”

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