Engaging Diabetes Patients Through Technology

Young woman looking at laptop.
Young woman looking at laptop.
Using technology to engage patients with diabetes is important in the changing landscape of health information.

Joan K. Bardsley, MBA, RN, CDE, FAADE, discusses a General Session focusing on technology in health care presented at AADE 2015.

NEW ORLEANS — There is no disagreement that the Internet, mobile devices and social networking have changed the landscape of how health information is exchanged. Therefore, learning how to use these technologies to engage patients is essential.

During her general session at AADE 2015, the annual meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators, Susannah Fox, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, walked attendees through the explosion of social media in the managing of our nation’s health based on her work at the Pew Research Center.

She described two phases of the use of technology. The first phase is the connection of documents via Google, and the second is the connection of people through social media, particularly Facebook. Using these technologies, populations not only have access to information but to each other as peers, which has changed the sources of information.

Thus, the concept of the ePatient is born. This is a person who is empowered and, most importantly, engaged.

Susannah FoxSusannah Fox

Prior to the Internet, information was funneled to consumers who received only a small amount from experts. The Internet started to crack open this funnel to allow industrial strength information flow to consumers, and this inevitably reached health care, Fox explained. Though limits to access still exist, she said, the future is one where there will be full and open access to medical information and data resulting in “nothing about me without me.”

Fox advised that we need to plan for a mobile only world. Today, 43% of households have only mobile phones vs. landlines, and 74% of U.S. Internet users have a profile on a social networking site. Additionally, Facebook has become a source of health information via health communities formed around certain conditions — despite concerns about the impact and validity of the information that is shared — because caregivers and those living with chronic conditions are most likely to connect with peers.

The Internet also tears down the barriers that patients may face when trying to find someone like themselves. There is a growing interest for connected, engaged patients and caregivers to raise questions with providers while relying on peers to navigate day-to-day challenges. The outcomes can be long-term reductions in costs and complications.

In addition to the gathering and sharing of information, another trend that is exploding thanks to technology is self-tracking or tracking of health and behavior on behalf of a loved one. It has been found that 60% of people track weight, diet and exercise; 33% track health indicators such as blood pressure, blood glucose, headaches and sleep; and 12% are tracking for a loved one. People track in their heads (49%), use paper (34%) and some form of technology (21%). Yet, Fox suggested that people are not tracking their data as a hobby. Rather, they are using it to see themselves more clearly.  

The opportunities for the use of the technology are unending. The audience was challenged: How can you empower people to use data to help themselves? We need to ask “What matters?” not “What is the matter?”  What mysteries are patients trying to solve?

No longer can there be an excuse of the false boundary of home and clinic. The learning system is all around for people to share. Fox advised to look at the future of learning from patients, empower them to share their stories, and help them to contribute their own health care.

Joan K. Bardsley, MBA RN CDE FAADE, is Assistant Vice President of Special Projects at MedStar Health Research Institute, and 2014 President of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.


  1. Fox S. GS01 – The “e” is for Engagement. Presented at: AADE 2015; Aug. 5-8, 2015; New Orleans.