TUESDAY, Aug. 8, 2017 -- Here's another example of technology's evolving impact on health care.
A new study found that playing an online game can help those with diabetes get better control of their blood sugar.
The study included 456 U.S. Veterans Affairs diabetes patients with poor blood sugar control while on oral medications. Half played a specially designed, team-based online diabetes education game for six months. The others were assigned to a control group that played a civics education game.
"This [diabetes control] game represents a small time commitment for patients, but potentially a big impact for their health," corresponding author Dr. B. Price Kerfoot said in a news release from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He is an associate professor of surgery at the hospital.
The diabetes game features multiple choice questions about blood sugar control, exercise, long-term complications, taking medications and nutrition. Participants were sent two questions twice a week by email or mobile app.
After answering a question, the patients were given the right answer and an explanation. They earned points for correct answers and were assigned to teams based on location. Individual and team scores were posted on leader boards.
Participants' HbA1c levels (a common measure of long-term blood sugar control) were checked at the study's start, and again, six and 12 months later.
Overall, HbA1c levels fell 0.74 percent in the game group, compared with 0.44 percent in the control group.
Over a year, the most significant decreases in HbA1C levels were seen in patients whose levels were highest when the study began (9 percent or more, a sign of high blood sugar and greater risk of diabetes complications).
"Among the subgroup of patients with uncontrolled diabetes, we saw a reduction in HbA1c levels that you would expect to see when a patient starts a new diabetes medication," Kerfoot said.
Though their blood sugar levels were still above the target range, the patients had taken a strong step in the right direction that resulted in a lasting and meaningful improvement, he added. Kerfoot is also on the faculty at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
Study senior author Dr. Paul Conlin, an endocrinologist, said the veterans not only learned helpful health information but also enjoyed the experience.
"About 89 percent of participants requested to participate in future programs using this game. This approach could be an effective and scalable method to improve health outcomes for other chronic conditions as well," he said in the news release.
Conlin is vice chairman of medicine at Brigham and Women's and chief of medical service at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
The study was published online Aug. 8 in the journal Diabetes Care.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on diabetes management.
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