Using our very own app tester, we wanted to find out how well a smartphone app can help someone manage their diabetes. 1.
Smartphone apps. They’re pretty smart. On my phone I have an app which allows me to instantly pay my housemates when I inevitably owe them money and a weather app that could tell me—without me having to look up from my screen to see for myself—whether or not I am in the middle of a life-threatening snow storm.
Apps can also be pretty useless. I once had a creepy, voice-activated “assistant”—similar to iPhone’s Siri. It wasn’t very fun. Instead of answering my questions, it spoke randomly and out of turn. Instead of speaking English, it chirped up sporadically from my pocket in Spanish.
I deleted that one pretty quickly.
Clearly a lot of work has to go into making an app that makes our lives more convenient. But what if apps could achieve more than mere convenience? What if they could do something really important—like help us manage and improve our own health?
Well that’s exactly what GlucaTrends—a free diabetes app for Android that allows users to log their daily values—aims to do.
But here’s the million dollar question. Is it any good? Is it as ingenious and convenient as a good map app, or as frustrating as an app that burps Spanish at you with no rhyme or reason?
We wanted to find out. We needed an insider to test the app and report back on just how well it helped manage their diabetes.
This is where Alison Durey came in. Alison has lived with diabetes for most of her life and has a very strong family history of the condition. She very kindly agreed to give GlucaTrends a test drive and report back on how it handled.
I was delighted to hear about how positively Alison had got on with the diabetes app. GlucaTrends allows users to log their daily values in order to get a better picture—and better control—of their diabetes. Alison highlighted three main ways that the app helped her.
Night time insulin
Alison has type 1 diabetes, which means her insulin levels are low. This affects her glucose (sugar) flow. To combat this, she takes four insulin injections each day. The first three of these injections are fairly regular, but the fourth injection can be tweaked slightly. She can change the amount of insulin in the last injection of the day, depending on how high or low her blood sugar levels are at this point. To do this, she must have a pretty good idea of what her blood sugar levels are. 2.
But this is notoriously difficult.
Sugar levels are dictated by many things. Physical activity, diet and stress are all factors in a person’s blood sugar levels. Alison even said, “I if I have a cold, my levels are affected.”
However, Alison says: “I could keep track of my sugar level really easily with the app,” which meant that she was able to change her night time insulin injection accordingly. Taking a more appropriate dose of insulin at night is particularly crucial as taking too high, or too low, a dose could negatively affect her glucose levels the next day.
The app: better than a notebook
You heard it here first!
A simple but invaluable benefit of the app was that Alison always had it close to her. “It was on my phone, and you never forget your phone, do you? I’ve had so many notebooks [for monitoring sugar levels] but they’re easy to lose or leave somewhere. I have so many handbags as well, so I never knew which one had the right notebook in!” 3.
“I could easily add comments, as well” said Alison, meaning she could personalise her logging as she would in a notebook. She also set the app to remind her to take her insulin injections at set times, which is important as taking the injections at regular, precise times is important in maintaining good blood sugar levels.
Luddites look away now: an app can help manage diabetes better than a notebook can.
The app improves self-management
This is the big one. Alison said she “never really had any discipline or control [over diabetes] when I was younger and first realised I had it. Unfortunately I didn’t take my insulin all the time.” But she seemed to relish having an app that encouraged her to monitor and control her condition more than she had done before.
“I wasn’t checking my sugar as well as I should have been, so using the app has been very useful in that way. I could follow the charts easily and then show my consultant. So I had no excuse not to keep track of my levels every day.” It’s easy to forget recording your levels on your own, but the app “always prompts to do it”.
Alison found that GlucaTrends “pushed me to really take care of my health.” It reminded her when to take her injections, prompted her to record her levels and allowed her to show a detailed picture of her diabetes to her consultant. “All in all, it is a great app [and I will] definitely keep using it!”