‘The Diabetes on Return programme brings together all the stakeholders and initiatives that would like to change diabetes care,’ says Mariska van den Berg, one of the programme coordinators on behalf of the TechMed Centre. ‘By working together, we aim to speed up the process.’
Text: Michaela Nesvarova
Diabetes on Return was initiated by UT professor Miriam Vollenbroek-Hutten in 2019. The goal has always been to create a strong network focused on using medical technology to support diabetes patients. Various stakeholders - including the University of Twente, other scientific institutions, hospitals such as MST and ZGT, and technology, nutrition and care companies - are collaborating to develop tailor-made support for patients.
‘We want to help patients to get better control over their disease, but also to get better outcomes,’ says Van den Berg. ‘Type 1 diabetes develops as a result of an autoimmune disease, but type 2 is often the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. About 40% of type 2 patients can completely turn the disease around. With the right lifestyle changes, they can become disease free. Even if not, the right behaviour and treatment can decrease the number of possible complications.’
The use of technology and a different approach to diabetes care is crucial, explains Van den Berg. ‘Right now, diabetes care is very reactive. Patients go for a check-up every few months, the physician looks at their blood sugar levels and tries to adjust the treatment. If we switch to using the right technology, the doctor can see all the details – anytime. The care becomes more personal because the doctor and the patient can see exactly what is needed and at which moments.’
A recent example of such a technological aid for patients is the Diameter app, developed by the UT and ZGT within the Diabetes on Return programme. The mobile app is essentially a personalized diabetes coach that helps people to maintain their glucose levels. ‘If a patient needs to take insulin, they generally have to take their own blood sample and then calculate how much insulin they need.
But they only take the blood sample once, which means they often give themselves too much or too little insulin; and that can be dangerous,’ says Van den Berg. ‘The Diameter app continuously monitors glucose levels, exercise, heart rate, diet and medication. Based on this, the app develops an individual predictive model for glucose regulation and supports people in making the right lifestyle choices.’ The app has successfully gone through a pilot study and is now being further developed before entering the market.
The Diabetes on Return programme will continue to work on similar tools, stresses Mariska van den Berg. ‘In the future, we hope to set up a virtual diabetes clinic and truly bring the digital care forward. We aim for holistic and personalized healthcare. We see there is a lot of interest in this and it can have a big societal impact.’