Healthcare app could help Indians determine diabetes risk

A new healthcare app could help Indians determine their risk of developing diabetes.

Launched in New Delhi on Wednesday, the Australian-developed app is part of the SMARThealth program created by the Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health and will see healthcare workers trained in the use of an Android tablet app in rural areas where doctors are scarce.

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According to the logic of the project, the program trains health workers because of a shortage of doctors in rural India — in some parts of the country, one doctor is expected to provide comprehensive primary health care to up to 30,000 people. It is estimated that rural Australia, by comparison, has 58 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants in rural areas. In the United States, rural areas have approximately 68 doctors per 100,000 people.

Why a focus on diabetes for the project? There was more 72 million cases of diabetes in India in 2017, and the lack of access to health and medical services in India is significant – there are about 600 million people with little or no access to health care.

Thus, this project intends to open up this availability by equipping healthcare workers with the technology. Called IMPACT Diabetes, the program will train women in the community health sector to use a new tablet application. Healthcare workers, known as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), will be able to screen people in Indian communities to identify those with diabetes or at high risk of contracting the disease.

“IMPACT Diabetes will help people living in rural areas access prompt, affordable, and community-based, community-based health care, reduce the risk of developing life-threatening complications, and ultimately save lives” said Vivek Jha, executive director of the George Institute for Global Health, India, in a statement.

So how does the app actually work?

Although the general public will not be able to use the application, trained healthcare professionals will have access to it on tablets and smartphones.

Patients will have their history recorded by ASHAs, undergo blood sugar and blood pressure tests, and have their weight and height recorded. Then, once all the measured data has been entered into the app, the patient’s risk score can be calculated.

Then healthcare workers can offer patients appropriate advice on diet and lifestyle – or, if they are at high risk of contracting the disease, refer them to a doctor for treatment.

Screenshots of the IMPACT Diabetes app.
Credit: smarthealth

The app will allow ASHAs to schedule follow-ups with patients, to ensure their condition is being taken care of.

“It’s innovation at its best,” said Jha, who said the results of the program in India would be brought back to New South Wales. “This digital model of healthcare could work just as well for remote and low socio-economic communities in Australia.”

Designed as a technologically progressive means to enable systematic medical assessment, referral and treatment (SMART) of patients at high risk of premature death or disability, the Australian SMARThealth program was launched in 2013 as a tool primary health care for places lacking resources. Since then it has spread to India, Indonesia and Thailand.

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