Type 2 diabetes affects 30 million Americans, representing a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. Self-management support is an important component of chronic illness care and is a key pillar of the chronic care model. Face-to-face teaching and patient education materials suffer from being static or incompatible with mobile lifestyles. Digital apps provide a self-management support alternative that is convenient and scalable.
This pilot study tested the real-world deployment of a self-guided mobile app for diabetes education (Time2Focus app; MicroMass Communications Inc, Cary, NC), which utilizes evidence-based content and gamification to deliver an interactive learning experience.
Primary care providers were approached for permission to invite their patients to participate. Eligible patients were 18 to 89 years of age, had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) ≥8% and <12% in the past 3 months, an active online patient portal account (tied to the electronic health record), and access to an iOS or Android smartphone. Interested patients were emailed a baseline survey, and once this was completed, were sent instructions for downloading the Time2Focus app. After completing all 12 levels, participants were sent a follow-up survey. The primary outcome was the change in HbA1c. Secondary outcomes included medication adherence, self-care activities, self-reporting of physical activities, diabetes self-efficacy, illness perceptions, diabetes distress scale, and users’ engagement with and rating of the app.
Of 1355 potentially eligible patients screened, 201 were consented. Of these 201 patients, 101 (50.2%) did not download the app. Of the 100 participants (49.8%) who downloaded the app, 16 (16.0%) completed 0 levels, 26 (26.0%) completed 1 to 4 levels, 10 (10.0%) completed 5 to 11 levels, and 48 (48.0%) completed all 12 levels of the app and the follow-up survey. Those completing one or more levels had a mean pre/post-HbA1c change of –0.41% (compared to –0.32% among those who completed zero levels); however, the unadjusted two-tailed <i>t</i> test indicated no significant difference between the two groups (<i>P</i>=.73). Diabetes self-efficacy showed a large and significant increase during app usage for completers (mean change 1.28, <i>P</i><.001, <i>d</i>=.83). Severity of illness perceptions showed a small but significant decrease during app usage for completers (mean change –0.51, <i>P</i>=.004, <i>d</i>=.43). Diabetes distress showed a small but significant decrease during app usage for completers (mean change –0.45, <i>P</i>=.006, <i>d</i>=.41). The net promoter score was 62.5, indicating that those who completed all levels of the app rated it highly and would recommend it to others.
Participants who engaged in all 12 levels of the Time2Focus mobile app showed an improvement in diabetes self-efficacy and a decrease in severity of illness perceptions. The decrease in HbA1c observed in app users relative to nonusers during this limited pilot study was not statistically significant. However, uptake and application of lessons learned from self-management support may be delayed. Further research is needed to address how to increase engagement through self-management support and to investigate if follow up over a longer period demonstrates a significant change in outcomes such as HbA1c.