Online Diabetes Support Improved Healthy Behaviors

Diabetes HealthSense, an online government-reviewed resource, helps you better manage diabetes.

With commentary by Karen Kemmis, DPT, CDE, physical therapist, certified diabetes educator and adjunct professor of physical therapy, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse.

Managing diabetes or prediabetes is no easy task, as anyone who has it or cares for someone who does knows. Making lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and moving more, is crucial, but difficult.

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However, there's a source of information and motivation at your fingertips that can improve your knowledge along with your attitude and help you change your behaviors around diabetes management, say experts who recently re-evaluated this program. It's called Diabetes HealthSense and it's offered through the National Institutes of Health's National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), says Joanne Gallivan, MS, RDN, director of the NDEP. "It started in 2004, but we are constantly updating it," she says.

The latest update was just evaluated by experts from the NDEP and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Gallivan presented the results at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) in San Diego. The researchers wanted to see if using HealthSense can make a difference in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. They also wanted to gauge how satisfied people were with the resource.

Diabetes HealthSense: How it Works 

The site allows users to individualize the information they get. For instance, you can enter your age, that you have diabetes or prediabetes and the information you are looking for, such as tips on eating healthier. The site shows a variety of resources you can select. Resources on the site from outside sources are vetted before they are included.  In the evaluation of users, Gallivan says, ''we found out with a guided educator helping [people] to use the site, people found it very informative.'' Gallivan adds, ''Those who particpated self-reported increased knowledge, emotional health and behaviors that support diabetes prevention and management." 

If someone wants to use the resource on their own, Gallivan suggests starting on the left hand side of the site, under "Help me." Users choose if they are a person with diabetes, a person at risk, or a caregiver, then pick the topic they want. Among them are how to stop smoking, lose weight, take medications as instructed, manage blood sugar or exercise more. They can choose English, Spanish or Vietnamese.

When people learn they have prediabetes or diabetes, Gallivan says, they also receive instructions on what to do to manage the condition. "We need to tell people how to make these changes," she says. "We need to not just tell them what to do, but how to do it." 

Expert Perspective

The online resource complements what doctors and diabetes educators do, says Karen Kemmis, DPT, CDE, a physical therapist, certified diabetes educator and adjunct professor of physical therapy at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse. It won't replace them, she says. She commented on the study evaluation and the program.

"We know in diabetes people can have good knowledge and still not do well with behavior changes," she says. HealthSense is not just an information source, she says. "It also has information on strategies to help understand what the barriers might be and how to set a goal."

Once a diabetes educator talks about an action, such as improving the diet, she can point patients to the site to find out more about why it's crucial, and to think about strategies, she says.

She thinks the support will be beneficial. "It's going to help people understand diabetes care and how to be successful at it," Kemmis says.

 

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