Gestational diabetes app supporting flexible care for parents-to-be

Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, Mater Mothers’ Hospital and Redland Hospital in Brisbane have fast-tracked an app to support pregnant patients with gestational diabetes and reduce their need to visit hospital.

Gestational diabetes occurs in one in 10 pregnancies and requires careful monitoring by the patient and a team of clinicians.

The secure M♡THer platform was designed to help patients better manage and track their condition at home, and help their clinical team monitor key health indicators remotely.

CSIRO project lead Dr Marlien Varnfield said while social distancing was critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19, an unintended consequence was a drop in patient attendances at hospitals and health check-ups for managing existing health conditions.

"While we're fighting COVID-19, it’s also critically important to consider our long-term health outcomes by proactively taking care of our health and wellbeing rather than waiting for issues to escalate before seeking care,” Dr Varnfield said.

“Patients and health services around Australia are embracing telehealth and mobile health solutions like M♡THer to deliver preventative health care remotely throughout this pandemic, and this will continue to be useful even outside of the pandemic.”

Originally developed by CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC) in collaboration with Queensland’s Metro South Hospital and Health Service, the M♡THer platform is designed to replace manual paper-based record keeping, which usually reaches members of a patient's clinical team every week or two by a combination of email, phone and fax.

The platform is now being trialled with up to 1000 people in Brisbane at Mater Mothers’ Hospital and Redland Hospital in an implementation study, the next key step in collecting evidence of the platform’s effectiveness to help make it more widely available in the future.

The team is also exploring expanding the study to Logan and Beaudesert Hospitals.

Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Redland Hospital Dr Wendy Dutton said the platform was designed to give a patient’s entire medical team access to their status in near real time, reducing the need for patients to come to hospital as frequently.

“The M♡THer app allows us to see the patients that we need to see in a more timely manner, but also importantly, not to see those whose sugars are well controlled as regularly,” Dr Dutton said.

M♡THer is available in several languages and includes:

A mobile app the patient uses to monitor key readings such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure and weight, automatically shared with a clinician web portal. It also includes information resources to support them in managing their condition
A web portal used by the patient’s clinical team, where they can regularly track the patient’s readings and intervene if further help is needed

Brisbane mum of three, Stacey Bailey, has been one of the first patients at Mater Mothers’ Hospital to take part in the trial.

“Having experienced gestational diabetes with my previous pregnancy, as a full-time working mum with other kids, I have experienced first-hand how inconvenient and anxiety-inducing this kind of diagnosis can bring on your everyday life,” Ms Bailey said.

“I am now able to do my daily testing directly through the app and have my doctor and nursing team communicate with me via text, app notification or phone call for any treatment I may need.

“It brings me a lot of peace of mind knowing my medical team are getting regular updates on my insulin levels and symptoms and can notify me quickly if I should need help.”

Obstetric medicine specialist at Mater Mothers’ Dr Jo Laurie said the M♡THer app was a life- and time-friendly innovation for a wide range of women across various stages of pregnancy.

“The M♡THer app has been created to see greater efficiencies for both healthcare providers and for expectant mothers,” Dr Laurie said.

“In reducing their need to come into hospital, the app provides expectant mothers with the ability to have support tailored to their individual needs and the added flexibility to manage their healthcare needs around their everyday lives.

“Providing women with the support they need from their very own mobile device is just another way that we are taking the clinical care and expertise at Mater Mothers’ beyond our hospital walls.”

AEHRC CEO Dr David Hansen said the app came at a critical time for expectant mothers.

“We’ve seen the amazing uptake of tele-health during COVID-19,” Dr Hansen said.

“Using apps that provide data straight to our care teams is the next stage of embracing digital as a core way of delivering healthcare.”

The Australian e-Health Research Centre is CSIRO’s national digital health program and a joint venture with the Queensland Government, delivering scalable, innovative research and solutions to solve some of the greatest health and healthcare challenges throughout Australia and the world for more than 15 years.

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