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Researchers will explore the use of technology in diabetes coaching

Jan 30, 2019
Guylaine Spencer

Diana Sherifali

Dr. Diana Sherifali, an associate professor in the School of Nursing, has been involved in research exploring the use of nurse-led coaching for people with diabetes. One study published in 2017 showed that coaching, along with medications and insulin, actually put the disease into remission for 40% of study participants. In other words, says Sherifali, “it made their diabetes go away.”

Until now, patients have communicated with their coaches face-to-face or by telephone only. Researchers now want to explore how technology might be introduced to facilitate the coaching. Two new grants – from CIHR and the Population Health Research Institute, will enable researchers to conduct a hands-on study.

“These two grants bring together an inter-professional team of researchers to understand the benefits and challenges related to technology-enabled coaching. The studies are part of a larger program of research which will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve patient and clinical outcomes,” says Sherifali.

The first grant is for planning and will bring together a number of stakeholders to select the technology to test. This will likely be an app (computer application) in combination with wearable devices for tracking like pedometers, etc. “In many cases, people are already using apps for tracking food and exercise but the apps don’t speak to their health care providers. So we’re looking at an innovation that would draw all types of data, like physical activity, diet, nutrition, and blood glucose levels, and make it available and accessible to the coach and to the individual.  This planning grant will help us understand the challenges from the stakeholders’ perspectives and then we will choose which technology to explore.”

The second grant is for a pilot study of the chosen technology. The subjects in the study will be people who have diabetes and who are candidates for remission. In remission research, “there’s a lot of interaction with  nurses, dietitians and kinesiologists. Right now patients have to come into the clinic once a week or they call once a week. However, factors like time, transportation costs, parking, etc, present barriers. Technology can take away some of those barriers, and support real-time communication. We’ll be asking: If we offer people this technology, how do they use it, what is the acceptability? If we were to roll out this intervention, what works, and what doesn’t? It gives us a chance to revise the intervention based on this experience.”

As Sherifali notes, this new study is part of a larger remission study that is being conducted in nine centres across Canada. “This is the fourth remission study we are doing and this is the first one where we are looking to explore the role of technology. This will help us understand how people use technology to support the remission intervention.”  

Grant details:

Planning grant:

Goyal S, Sherifali D (Co-PIs). Brown M, Whiteside C, Lispcombe L, Bhattcharyya O, Griever M, Agarwal G, Segal R, Oh P, Barwick M, Yu C, Cafazzo J.  Integrated Digital Diabetes Self-Management and Support in Primary and Community Care:  Identifying Challenges and Opportunities. CIHR Planning Grant.  December 2018 – November 2019.  $14,900

Pilot study:

Sherifali D (PI), Gerstein H, Goyal S, McInnes N, Punthakee Z (Collaborators). Assessing the feasibility and acceptability of diabetes technology enabled coaching (DTEC), as an intensive metabolic and education intervention for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Population Health Research Institute, Internal Funding Program. December 2018 – November 2019.  $49,328




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