The use of mobile phones and the availability of Internet access in remote areas could help low-income individuals in underdeveloped locations manage diabetes and other chronic conditions, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Medscape reports.
The study -- run by the Veterans Administration and the University of Michigan School of Medicine -- enrolled 85 patients with diabetes who received treatment from a clinic in low-income, underdeveloped areas of Honduras. The average patient had less than five years of formal education and had an annual income of about $2,500.
Each participant received automated, interactive phone calls generated by a University of Michigan server every week for six weeks after completing an in-person interview to determine glycemic and blood pressure measurements.
The server also sent follow-up emails to clinicians and featured an option for family members to receive voicemail reports on how the patient was doing. In addition, the voicemail reports offered suggestions on how family members could support the individual.
Ninety-eight percent of participants said the program helped them better manage their disease, and 92% said they would use the service again if it were available.
About 53% of participants completed at least half of the interactive calls, and nearly one in four completed 80% or more of the calls. Patients with highest blood pressures at the start of the study and those who lived farthest away from the clinic were more likely to complete their calls, the study found.
Researchers also found that 56% of participants had improved glycemic control and that 89% had improved foot care.
In a release, John Piette -- lead study author and a senior researcher at the Veterans Administration in Ann Arbor, Mich. -- said, "Telehealth programs have been shown to be very helpful in a variety of contexts."
However, he noted that a "lack of infrastructure" represents a key limitation for expanding services in developing countries (Fox, Medscape, 5/25).