An SMS solution for Type 2 diabetes?

A team of University of Illinois Chicago experts in Rockford, Illinois, will launch and study a text message-based intervention for Type 2 diabetes in underserved communities, thanks to a $30,000 grant award from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois’ Dr. Louis and Violet Rubin Fund.  

The team is part of the UIC College of Pharmacy Rockford and UI Health Mile Square Health Center’s L.P. Johnson Rockford clinic, which is a federally funded community-based health center. The intervention will deliver personalized information directly to patients through text messages, including reminders about self-monitoring and prescription refills, interactive office hours and general information about diabetes, motivational support and answers to frequently asked questions.  

The UIC experts hope the intervention will help patients gain better control of their health and bring their A1C levels — a measurement of average blood sugar levels — to below 7%, which would reduce their risks of health complications, like heart disease or stroke.  

Representatives from the college, clinic and foundation will celebrate the project with a ceremonial check presentation March 17 at 10 a.m. at the UIC College of Pharmacy Rockford, 1601 Parkview Ave.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that diabetes is about 17% more prevalent in rural areas than urban ones, and more than half of rural counties do not have enough — if any — diabetes education and support services.  

“In our clinic, we serve about 250 patients with uncontrolled diabetes. Our community area, which includes rural counties as well as uninsured or underserved patients, has diabetes rates higher than both the state and national averages,” said Annette Hays, clinical assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy Rockford, who has a doctorate in pharmacy.  

For the next nine months, Hays and the team will study the intervention to see if A1C levels are lowered among patients and will track patient engagement with the platform.

“This intervention is very timely and we hope it will help patients and providers alike,” Hays said. “The COVID-19 pandemic created a demand for remote care capabilities. There is a new motivation to embrace technology and creatively leverage it to improve patient care and overall health. Our pharmacy and medical students comprise an innovative generation with tremendous interest in tech efficiencies, and there is a renewed emphasis on ‘working smarter, not harder.’ This is particularly relevant with chronic conditions that are significantly driven by social determinants of health.” 

Hays said while high A1C levels among people with Type 2 diabetes may be a result of patients not taking their medications, most patients have an underlying, practical reason for skipping doses or letting prescriptions lapse costs are too high or access to pharmacies or doctors is too limited, or they simply might lack the motivation to prioritize getting medication over other pressing concerns, like employment or housing or child care.  

“The idea is to create more opportunities for patients to meaningfully engage with us and reduce barriers by employing technology already in people’s hands,” Hays said. 

Working with Hays on the study are Kris Zimmermann, research assistant professor at the College of Medicine Rockford; Kevin Rynn, regional dean and professor of pharmacy practice at the College of Pharmacy Rockford; and Rhonda Verzal, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the College of Medicine Rockford.   

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