Building holistic solutions for diabetes management

Digitalisation of services will ensure patients can still avail of expert medical advice even during lockdowns, says Gautam Chopra

With movement outside homes strictly regulated, it becomes difficult for diabetics to undertake adequate physical exercise, which is necessary for keeping their health complications under check.

Over the past few months, as the coronavirus pandemic has been disrupting the lives of individuals and institutions worldwide, one fact is clear – people with pre-existing ailments are more susceptible. What complicates matters is co-morbidity can increase the mortality rate too. One section especially vulnerable to COVID-19  are people with diabetes.

Data from multiple studies across the globe indicate that patients with diabetes have an increased risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19 infection. This is not surprising because diabetics have weaker immune systems. What’s worse, diabetics can also develop cardiovascular ailments, hypertension and thyroid disorders, amongst other health problems.

Extra care and caution

Considering the dangerous cocktail of underlying health conditions and the adverse outcomes, it is imperative people with diabetes take extra care of themselves. Close family members also need to make sure people with diabetes are safeguarded from the additional risks of COVID-19.

Given the stringent lockdown restrictions, this is easier said than done. With movement outside homes strictly regulated, it becomes difficult for diabetics to undertake adequate physical exercise, which is necessary for keeping their health complications under check. That apart, patients need to ensure they receive regular medical supplies, including blood sugar monitoring strips. Also, they need to visit their doctor in person for direct consultation sometimes. Under the present scenario, much of the above can be challenging, depending on the zone where a patient is living.

Left to themselves and without direct interactions with doctors, most patients tend to slacken their daily diabetes control regimen. Without periodic medical supervision, many diabetics don’t have a proper understanding of how to manage the disorder and regulate medications, including the insulin dosage. Lack of proper awareness or knowledge about the dangerous consequences of not following prescribed guidelines could then cause serious complications, including limb amputation, blindness and even death. It is for these reasons that diabetes is termed a 'silent killer'.

Under the current circumstances, improper management and inaccessibility could contribute to uncontrolled hyper glycaemia and, hence, higher risk for COVID-19 related complications and mortality. Here, healthcare professionals must adapt to the circumstances and help their patients in consulting them as and when required while themselves tracking patients’ individual needs.

It is also essential that medical professionals educate patients about the various medications, insulin dosage, dietary guidelines, stress management techniques and even indoor exercise regimens that facilitate self-management. Since direct visits may not be possible, doctors can ascertain they are at least available via virtual means.

Undoubtedly, digital health initiatives have been growing in importance in recent years, including the use of medical and health apps. A sunrise segment, digital health comprises wearables to ingestible sensors, artificial intelligence, electronic records and robotic caregivers, among others. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an ideal opportunity for the healthcare industry to deploy disruptive technologies in driving breakthroughs in patient care and well-being offering more sustainable solutions.

Advantages of virtual visits

Today, many sectors are ensuring that interactions with customers and their operations continue unhindered through the help of digital technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams as well as Skype and WhatsApp video calls. It is time that medical professionals also embrace these technologies in the interests of patient welfare as well as sustaining their activities even under lockdown conditions.

There is no doubt that though multiple challenges are caused by the coronavirus pandemic, these very challenges are offering many breakthrough opportunities. Therefore, hurdles posed by the ongoing pandemic could be used in revolutionising healthcare practices, specifically in the management of chronic ailments, including diabetes.

One way to manage a debilitating disease such as diabetes is by building solutions that can cater to patients, irrespective of their mobility. The best way to go about this is by the digitalisation of diabetes management. For example, during the past decade-and-a-half, the growth of telemedicine has led to a form of guided treatment.-whereby, patients in tier 2 and tier 3 towns/cities have been able to consult specialists in the metros. Patients have been doing this directly via connected video systems in their homes or by visiting clinics possessing these facilities. In this manner, advice and prescriptions from the best medical consultants only available in tier 1 cities have become available in non-metros too.

Similarly, digital or virtual support groups can be created in providing an ecosystem of care for patients with specific ailments, particularly the chronic ones where this is essential in ensuring a better quality of life and longer lifespans. Rather than offering isolated services with limited benefits for patients, it is more worthwhile in creating an entire ecosystem offering patients one-stop services under one roof.

Towards this objective, apps catering to specific ailments could be a lifesaver, more so in situations such as a nationwide lockdown where brick-and-mortar support services may be difficult to access. As seen in sectors such as hospitality and even hospitals, an app can be useful in accessing services spanning the entire spectrum, including appointments and billings.

Going forward, there is no doubt that technology will be a front-runner in self-management of critical disorders such as diabetes. This will then be a winning proposition for both patients and physicians.