An app for diabetics

Over a million people in the Netherlands have diabetes, and 90% of them have type 2. Every year 1,200 more people are diagnosed with the disease. In order to stay healthy, these people need to constantly make sure that their blood sugar levels stay low and stable. They also have to follow a low-sugar diet and get enough exercise. ‘Diameter’, a smart, app-based system developed by the UT and ZGT Hospital Group Twente (Ziekenhuisgroep Twente), makes the task a lot easier – and in many cases even helps patients cut back on medication.

'Diameter’, the smart buddy for type 2 diabetes patients

Keeping an eye on your health if you have type 2 diabetes is a job and a half. To start with, you have to constantly keep track of your blood sugar levels: the lower and more stable these glucose levels are, the fewer the health risks. These risks vary from numbness and loss of strength to organ damage and (artery) stenosis, which can lead to thrombosis or a stroke. A healthy diet and exercise, sometimes combined with tablets or an insulin pump, help you manage your ‘sugars’. However, the perfect mix of these factors varies a lot, depending on the patient and his circumstances.

Personalised coaching

‘Diameter’, a special support system for type 2 diabetes patients, changes all that. The system combines various instruments: a miniscule needle nestled in the patient’s upper arm, which constantly measures blood values, a fitness tracker that records exercises and a programme for registering eating behaviour. An app collects the data and, combining them with motivation theories from psychology, offers personalised coaching. Explains UT scientist Miriam Vollenbroek, ‘The motivational aspect is key. We want users to feel the app is like a buddy to them; that they’re happy with the advice and motivated to follow up on it. On top of this, the doctor can also access the data and monitor the patient’s health status, so that technology and personal attention go hand in hand. The result: improved self-management and motivation, the possibility of reducing medication and – most importantly – improved personal health.’

Test-ready in 2019

The app is being co-developed by ZGT Hospital Group Twente and the UT. Clinicians, psychologists, engineers, physicists and computer scientists, among others, are involved. A number of patients are already working with the version currently under development, which is part of a broader scientific research project. Vollenbroek expects that by 2019 the system will be ready for tests aimed at demonstrating its effectiveness. In 2017, Diameter was already praised as Best diabetes idea of the year.

‘During my doctoral research into the rehabilitation of people with lower-back complaints, I saw that many of these people fell back into as soon as professional care ceased. This is why I’ve made it one of my goals to bring treatment options to the patient, instead of the other way around. New technologies offer more and more opportunities for this. It’s clear that hospitals are very eager to start using all these new technological possibilities, but they often do not know where to start. I like connecting those three domains: hospital, patient and technology.’
prof.dr. M.M.R. Vollenbroek - Hutten (Miriam)
Professor Technology-Supported Cognitive Training, UT | Head of Science Bureau, Ziekenhuisgroep Twente

Studied Biomedical Science at the University of Nijmegen

Field of interest: innovative technological healthcare solutions that enable patients with chronic illnesses to overcome motor problems in their own environment