8 Ways Your Smartphone Can Help You Live Better with Diabetes

Written by Julia Telfer, MPH

Between trying to figure out what to eat, how much to exercise, what those lab results mean and more, the few hours you are face-to-face with a healthcare provider might not seem like enough to equip you to take on the 24/7 challenges of living with diabetes.

Enter your smartphone.

The ability to search the web or email your healthcare providers is now at your fingertips. Aside from these functions, smartphones have other helpful—and healthful—features to help you stay in control of your diabetes.

#1. Keep Track of Fitness and Health Information

Most smartphones now come equipped with motion sensors that can measure how many steps you take and track this data over time, plotting the results in graphs and charts. If you carry your phone throughout the day, you will be able to get a sense of how close you are to the goal of 10,000 daily steps.* The Health app on the iPhone shows steps taken, stairs climbed, running distance and more—it comes set up with your new phone. Other phones have similar pre-loaded apps, but some, such as the Samsung Galaxy, require a bit of initial setup before use.1

The Health app on the iPhone also allows you to manually enter data to keep track of body measurements, nutrition levels, blood glucose levels, lab results, sleep patterns, and other vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate. Health apps on smartphones increasingly have the ability to connect to additional external devices (such as blood glucose monitors or fitness trackers) and other apps to automatically pull and centralize health data.

2. Document with Photos or Have a Video Chat with a CDE

About 33% of people with diabetes will have a skin disorder related to their diabetes in their lifetime.2 That’s why it is important to visually inspect your skin, especially your feet, on a daily basis. If you notice any cuts, injuries, or signs of infection, you can document your symptoms by taking a picture using your smartphone. Not only can you clearly show your doctor what is going on, you can also take pictures over time to monitor any changes that might be occurring.

If it isn’t an emergency and you can’t get to the doctor’s office, you may have the option of using your smartphone for a video consultation with a certified diabetes educator (CDE) or doctor for roughly the same cost as an office visit copay.3

#3. Set Appointment or Medication Reminders

Creating calendar events for various health appointments can help you stay on track with your diabetes care. When entering an appointment, you can even set reminders for a week, a day, or any number of hours in advance. In addition to calendar events, you can set daily alarms as reminders to take medications, check your blood sugar, exercise, and so much more. Get creative and let your smartphone be your own personal assistant to help you stay on top of your daily diabetes management tasks.

#4. Record Important Conversations

Most smartphones come with voice recording software. This can be helpful for recording sessions with your endocrinologist or other health care providers if you would like to be able to refer back to the conversation. Simply tap the icon (called Voice Memos on the iPhone) and hit record. You can also use this feature to dictate quick notes to yourself—reminders about setting up annual appointments, things to buy at the grocery store, really anything you need to remember.

For those devices without voice record, consider using the video record feature as a substitute.

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#5. Share Health Information

Smartphones make it easier than ever to share information. The current Android Operating System has a feature called screen pinning, which allows you to pin your screen so another user can access just that content without accessing any other information on your device.

Other popular smartphone operating systems also allow sharing. You can send contact cards and locations for health care providers, pharmacies, or other individuals—in addition to your current location—through text message, iMessage, or something known as AirDrop (which requires you to be in the same geographical area as another iPhone user) with a few taps on your screen.

Although this is important for serious health information, it’s also useful for sharing fun, low carb recipes or news stories about advances in the fight against diabetes.

#6. Use As Your Medical ID

In an emergency situation, such as a severe hypoglycemic episode, it’s important for those around you to be aware of your diabetes. Wearing a medical ID--such as a bracelet or tattoo--is a great way to ensure this information is readily available. Thanks to technology, something many of us carry with us everywhere we go can now serve as a digital supplement to your medical alert bracelet. Apple iPhones (models 4s and newer) come with a built-in feature that allows you to store personal information such as your name, date of birth, medical conditions, notes, medications, known allergies, blood type, and emergency contact information in a centralized location. Once enabled, this medical ID can be accessed by doctors or first responders in an emergency, even when your screen is locked, by holding down the “Emergency” button on your home screen. To edit your medical ID on an iPhone, simply tap the Health app (the white square with a red heart) and select “Medical ID.”

#7. Set Voice Commands

Voice activated commands can be helpful in a number of ways, especially in an emergency situation that requires calling 911. Most new smartphones include a feature that allows hands-free, voice-activated 911 calls: 1, 4

Even if there’s no emergency, voice commands can be helpful for those with health complications that limit dexterity and prevent people from typing on a small smartphone keyboard. In addition to this feature, most phones have settings for increased accessibility for the visually impaired, including various font sizes, text contrast levels and/or inverted colors to improve legibility.4

#8. Add Other Apps to Help Customize Your Care

Is there something you were hoping to find on this list that you haven’t seen? There are literally hundreds of health-related and diabetes-specific apps you can download and use on your smartphone. Some are free, some charge a fee. Search for the features you would like to have and read reviews to find the best option for you.

One example is mySugr,5 a family of diabetes apps including: the diabetes logbook app for entering, searching, and finding data; the importer app, which scans blood glucose levels from your meter and imports them into your diabetes logbook; and more informational apps that provide quizzes and videos. There is also an app for children with diabetes, with the option to send any data collected to an adult’s smartphone as well.

* This goal is not for everyone. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new physical activity routine to find out what is recommended for you.

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