3 min

Support for Diabetes Self-Management

How Patients Can Help Each Other Using a Messenger App

Support for Diabetes Self-Management
St. Pölten UAS

A balanced lifestyle is of particular importance to enable patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus to live without discomfort or pain. Headed by the St. Pölten UAS, the research project DiabPeerS examines how patients can support each other online by using instant messaging.

Common and Chronic

Diabetes mellitus is one of the four major non-communicable diseases in the world. In 2019, 463 million adults worldwide suffered from diabetes mellitus, and their number is expected to increase by 51% by the year 2045. The most common form, diabetes mellitus type 2, is strongly associated with the patients’ personal lifestyle.

Due to the chronic nature of the disease, diabetes patients require continuous therapy, regular medical appointments and good adherence. If left untreated, diabetes can have severe long-term effects such as cardiovascular and kidney diseases, decreased life quality, worse mental health, and reduced life expectancy.

Leading a Better Life with Self-Management

The success of a diabetes therapy strongly depends on the patients themselves. Patients have to change their lifestyle, for example by following an adequate diet, taking their medicines correctly, measuring their blood sugar levels, and going to the doctor for regular checkups. Diabetes self-management trainings teach the patients knowledge and skills in handling diabetes mellitus, and thus play a decisive role in diabetes therapy.

However, studies have shown that patients struggle to maintain the positive results of such diabetes self-management trainings in their daily lives. First results suggest that peer support – assistance by persons who also suffer from the disease and thus have experienced a certain behaviour and the difficulty of the situation by themselves – can provide help. As it seems, support by other affected persons improves self-management skills and self-efficiency, and therefore leads to improvements in blood sugar control and the patients’ long-term health.

Implementation and Care in Everyday Life

“Vising the doctor for a medical checkup and getting some medicine prescriptions is not enough for type 2 diabetes patients. Quite the opposite“, explains Gerhard Hutter, Chairperson of the regional office of the Austrian Health Insurance Fund (Österreichische Gesundheitskasse) in Lower Austria. “This illness requires the patients‘ commitment and discipline. As a health insurance fund, we ensure structured medical treatment through health services and scientifically proven programmes such as ‘Therapie Aktiv‘. In addition, assisting in everyday life can be an essential prerequisite for success in increasing patients‘ life quality. This is why we gladly support the St. Pölten UAS‘ project DiabPeerS.“

Implementing peer support as an accompanying measure within the framework of a standard therapy can lead to better results at lower costs. Despite promising results, research on peer support in treating diabetes is still in its infancy and the impact of various factors remains unclear.

Support through Instant Messaging Services

This is what the project the “DiabPeerS” is about. Over the next three years, it examines how patients with Diabetes mellitus type 2 can support each other through instant messaging services. The programmes work like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal and other products. The project assigns an important role to specially trained people who have long-term experience with Diabetes. They lead online groups and initiate discussions on diabetes mellitus type 2 by actively bringing up topics. A dietitian provides them with guidance to ensure the best possible results.

“Peer support via instant messaging services (IMS) has a considerable potential for diabetes management. Support can be realised fast, easily, inexpensively and with little effort for the affected persons. Furthermore, almost half of the 40- to 69-year-olds – in other words, the age group most often affected by type 2 diabetes – already use instant messaging programmes”, says Elisabeth Höld, nutritional scientist and project head at the St. Pölten UAS. The project will use the Austrian software grape.

Collaboration between Health Experts

According to Stefan Stieger, Head of the Division of Psychological Methodology at the Department of Psychology and Psychodynamics at the Karl Landsteiner Privatuniversität für Gesundheitswissenschaften, and Martin Wiesholzer, head of the Clinical Division for Internal Medicine 1 at the University Hospital St. Pölten, multifactorial diseases such as diabetes mellitus type 2 require interdisciplinary cooperation: collaborations between dietetics, nutritional sciences, medicine, psychology, communication studies, media management, technology and sociology help to better develop support possibilities for patients. The interdisciplinary project team of DiabPeerS meets this objective.

For the project, over 200 diabetes mellitus type 2 patients aged over 40 will be monitored over a period of seven months – one group with online peer support and a second control group without it.   

Project DiabPeerS

The project “DiabPeerS - Improving glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus through peer support Instant Messaging: a randomized controlled trial” is funded within the framework of the Life Science Call by the NÖ Forschungs- und Bildungsges.m.b.H. (NFB). The project is carried out by the St. Pölten UAS’ Institutes of Health Sciences and Creative\Media/Technologies in partnership with the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse, the Division of Psychological Methodology at the Department of Psychology and Psychodynamics at the Karl Landsteiner Privatuniversität für Gesundheitswissenschaften, and the Clinical Division for Internal Medicine 1 at the University Hospital St. Pölten

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FH-Prof. Mag. Dr. Höld Elisabeth

FH-Prof. Mag. Dr. Elisabeth Höld

Senior Researcher Institute of Health Sciences Department of Health Sciences