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How Mobile Tech Can Fight War On Diabetes

Two ONC-funded Beacon Communities will pilot a mobile health campaign to aid in diagnosis and treatment of the prevalent chronic illness.

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As the value of technology used to fight diabetes becomes more apparent, two Department of Health and Human Services-funded projects--Southeast Michigan Beacon Community in Detroit, and the Crescent City Beacon Community in New Orleans--will launch in the fall public health campaigns that rely on mobile devices to help individuals assess their risk of type 2 diabetes and provide them with relevant health information, such as local health and wellness resources.

Both communities fall under the Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program--a three-year project of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), which provides $250 million in funding to promote real-life implementations of health IT in 17 diverse communities throughout the United States.

The public health campaigns, which were announced at the American Diabetes Association's annual conference this week in San Diego, will also be supported by the American Diabetes Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and mobile health (mHealth) provider Voxiva. The model for this project is the national Text4Baby campaign that delivers evidence-based health tips via text message to pregnant women and new mothers. Voxiva is a founding partner of Text4Baby and will provide the mHealth platform for the pilots in Detroit and New Orleans.

According to Paul Meyer, Voxiva's chairman and president, individuals will be able to complete an interactive risk assessment from their cell phones using short message service (SMS). By starting with text messaging, Meyer said the program can reach the broadest possible audience, including those with lower incomes.

"Based on their responses and corresponding risk level, they will be connected to care or other resources in the community. Like text4baby, they can sign-up to receive health educational messages about diabetes. They will also be able to enroll in SMS-based services to help them improve their diet, exercise more, and lose weight," Meyer said in an interview. "Over 79% of Medicaid beneficiaries are active users of text messaging. Individuals do not need a smartphone or Web access to benefit from these services."

Aaron McKethan, director of the Beacon Community Program at ONC, said in a statement that Beacon Communities are using technology to improve healthcare delivery in their local communities, and can assist diabetics to better manage their illness.

"The mobile health campaigns planned for Detroit and New Orleans are geared toward helping more patients understand their risk factors for the disease and connect them to their doctors, clinics, and other community resources to better manage their health," he said.

Dr. Vivian Fonseca, professor of medicine, the Tullis-Tulane Alumni Chair in diabetes, and chief of the section of endocrinology at Tulane University Medical Center, said there are currently 385,000 people living with diabetes in Louisiana, including about 90,000 in the New Orleans metropolitan area. "I am delighted that this effort is being started in New Orleans which has a population that has been very severely affected by diabetes and its complications," Fonseca said in a statement.

With an emphasis on reaching out to those who may have diabetes, but have not been diagnosed, and those at risk for diabetes, mHealth campaigns allow engagement with a large population while simultaneously tailoring information to the individual based on his or her own risk factors. In most cases, this involves ensuring that patients connect to medical personnel who can help them manage their condition before costly complications arise.

Over the next two months, the CDC and American Diabetes Association will work with ONC, the Beacon Community grantees, and Voxiva to design, deploy, and test the campaigns in the two large urban areas. This collaboration will assist in the design of the tools and interventions, as well as the development of effective communications that make the best use of local resources to help patients manage their own health and connect with their own doctors more effectively. The public health campaigns will also be designed to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach in connecting people at risk of diabetes to the care they need.

The American Diabetes Association, CDC, ONC, and ONC's Beacon Communities plan to work with other stakeholders that wish to run similar campaigns in the future, in order to further the effective use of health IT approaches in addressing specific health and healthcare challenges. For example, the first two campaigns will help inform additional campaigns among other Beacon Communities and other efforts later this year and into 2012.

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