When the COVID-19 pandemic turned healthcare on its head in 2020, telehealth had a moment to shine. The number of virtual doctor visits in the U.S. increased by 50% in the first quarter of the year, and even now, in 2021—in what’s starting to (finally) feel like a post-pandemic world—telehealth is expected to continue growing.
Among those with diabetes, telehealth has proven to be especially valuable over the last several months. One Drop recently surveyed over 2,000 people living with diabetes in the U.S. about their telehealth habits and found that 83% use a health app on their phone or computer on a regular basis—a steep 30% jump compared to the results of a similar survey conducted in 2018.
It’s easy to see why the vast majority of people with diabetes are using telehealth to manage their condition. From calculating carb-to-insulin ratios to measuring blood sugar, self-care for diabetes typically requires a few different types of technology—such as a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or an insulin pump, not to mention the apps that sync with these devices and, in some cases, provide comprehensive health reports—all of which help to streamline the many steps involved in diabetes management. In fact, in our survey, 63% of respondents agreed that technology positively influences their self-care.
There’s no doubt that telehealth is here to stay. Still, when it comes to diabetes self-care, there are some gaps in these tools. Here’s what people with diabetes still need most from telehealth offerings.
Keeping It Simple
In One Drop’s survey, people living with diabetes noted a desire for “simple” apps that “bring everything together,” including blood sugar, food, medications, and activity, among other metrics. One person even said they often find themselves “so busy worrying about the technology” that they “can’t concentrate” on its real purpose: to better take care of and understand their health.
These concerns make sense; managing diabetes often entails being mindful of way more than just blood sugar, insulin, food, and activity (as if that’s not already enough to juggle). For instance, you might also want to know more about your sleep patterns, or your heart rate, or your blood pressure, or your stress levels—all of which can affect diabetes management in their own unique ways.
The problem, of course, is that not all apps for diabetes management include tracking features for every single one of these details. In One Drop’s survey, people expressed a desire for comprehensive apps that can essentially do it all: keep track of blood sugar, meals, activity, weight, blood pressure, and more, ideally via features that allow your data to travel directly from the source into the app. That means, for example, Bluetooth-enabled glucose meters and scales that eliminate the need for manual data entry, plus app-to-app integrations that allow tools such as Apple Health or Google Fit to communicate with your diabetes management app.
That said, it’s not just a matter of logging and tracking these metrics. People with diabetes also want to know how they can use this information to change their behavior (or even maintain a healthy habit) moving forward.
A Clear Picture of Cause and Effect
Having all of your health data in one place is certainly convenient, but data alone can’t manage or change your condition. You have to be able to see how one aspect of your health shapes another, and whether there’s anything you can do to affect those connections. Or, as one survey respondent put it in the context of diabetes management, “I need to be able to look at how some specific meal affected my glucose and how much insulin I used premeal.”
Now, you could take notes of your own—whether on paper or within an app—over time to spot patterns in the link between your eating habits and your blood sugar. But, realistically, how long do you think you’d stick with that type of manual tracking? Would it be long enough to actually identify a trend in your self-care and act on it? How much trial and error do you think you could tolerate before losing steam?
In One Drop’s survey, one respondent expressed frustration with an app that not only had problems syncing with its associated glucose meter, but even once the two were synced, the data was presented “like an old-fashioned logbook—just the plain data with no summary, no averages, no trend analysis, no way to know anything other than ‘this is what it is.’” The respondent even said they’d “much rather use an oldfashioned logbook and write down everything” than use an app that fails to provide actionable data.
What does “actionable data” look like, you ask? It could come in the form of predictive forecasts, or even a graph of trends shaped by billions of data points from people with similar health conditions. Either way, actionable data gives you meaningful insight into the relationship between cause and effect, so you can have a no-nonsense perspective on your health and how your actions might affect it.
The Need for Emotional Support In Diabetes Management
Between the stress of keeping your blood sugar in range on a daily basis, and the long-term fears you may have about the progression of your condition, living with diabetes can be emotionally draining. Case in point: In our survey, nearly 85% of people agreed that emotional support plays a significant role in their diabetes management.
But where, exactly, do we get that emotional support? About one in five people in the survey identified social media as a major source, while others said they lean on friends and family.
What’s less common in diabetes management, however, is the ability to find real-time support directly through a health app—particularly from real, credentialed experts, rather than chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Some apps may only offer access to monthly coaching calls, while others might only foster community among other folks with diabetes, rather than certified educators.
But with a real-time health coach, on the other hand, you can get feedback from a credentialed expert in a matter of hours on your wellness goals and habits. They’re not only there to help empower you with the knowledge you need to manage your health, but also to hear out your concerns, and cheer you on as you navigate the ups and downs of life.
Considering the strong need for “better personal interactions” in telehealth among those surveyed—not to mention the rising trends across multiple forms of telehealth—that uniquely human touch seems more essential now than ever.One Drop’s survey was conducted in partnership with DiabetesMine using Thrivable, a rapid market research platform.