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iPhone Apps Help Pro Car Racer Control Diabetes

Race car driver Charlie Kimball uses inexpensive consumer apps to manage his diabetes in partnership with his doctors.

Healthcare providers looking to use mobile technology to improve patient care don't need to focus exclusively on expensive, professional-grade applications. Simple, inexpensive, consumer software works, too. That lesson comes form an unlikely source: Professional race car driver Charlie Kimball.

Kimball, who races cars in Europe and the United States, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago and was forced to abandon his racing program mid-season. But he returned last year, on the strict program of diet, exercise, and insulin that diabetics need to keep healthy. One of his sponsors is Novo Nordisk, a company specializing in diabetes care.

Recently, he started using a few iPhone apps to help stay on track.

Diabetes results from the body's inability to process glucose--sugar and other carbs. People with Type 1 diabetes, like Kimball, are unable to make insulin, which metabolizes glucose. Type 1 diabetics need insulin injections one to four times daily, and strict diet and regular exercise, all of which requires extensive record-keeping.

Kimball uses the Documents To Go iPhone app from DataViz to record his food, exercise, and blood sugar log in an Excel spreadsheet. Documents To Go synchs Microsoft Office documents between the desktop and a mobile device, users can create and modify documents on the device and synch changes with the desktop, and vice-versa, the iPhone and iPod Touch, in addition to the BlackBerry, Palm OS, Windows Mobile, and Google Android devices. It costs $10 on the iPhone (App Store Link).

Kimball uses a spreadsheet template designed by his endocrinologist and doctors. He inputs the results of blood sugar tests, insulin doses, foods with carb levels, along with notes on how he's feeling and whether he's exercising. Every three days, he synchs the iPhone to a laptop, and emails the documents from either the iPhone or laptop.

Prior to using Docs To Go, Kimball just kept a paper journal that he carried around with him, and transcribed it manually into a spreadsheet on his laptop. "I usually did it on flights because I travel so much for racing," he said. Sometimes, he'd just fax the paper to them. "They'd have to decipher my handwriting, which is not the best," Kimball said. "The new system streamlines the process, insofar as getting the information to them in a legible manner."

Kimball said he uses two other apps on the iPhone to help manage his diabetes. Given the extensive travel his career requires, he often eats at chain restaurants, like Chili's and Applebee's, because the nutritional data on the meals, such as calories and carbs, are known and predictable; he uses a $0.99 app called Restaurants (App Store Link) to find the nearest location. And diabetes often requires him to stop in at drugstores for medical supplies; he uses the iPhone's built-in Maps application to find the nearest drugstore when staying in hotels.

Many healthcare providers are implementing professional-grade iPhone apps, often with interfaces to electronic health records or enterprise software. For example, Blue Cross Northeast Pennsylvania is distributing smartphone apps to 5,000-10,000 members to help them manage their own medical records, and the University of Louisville School of Medicine is equipping its 600 students with e-prescription software and electronic medical references for mobile devices. Also, a Princeton University undergrad recently received a $100,000 grant to develop a diabetes-management app for the iPhone.

But Kimball's case is a demonstration of another direction for mobile healthcare apps, using cheap consumer software to achieve results.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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