A Diabetes Networking Tool to Enhance Self-Management through Social Networks

Associate Name: Pamela Surkan

Funding Source/Period of the Grant: NINR R21 08/01/15-07/31/17


We propose to develop a Diabetes Networking Tool (DNT), a mobile health (mHealth) application that enhances Type II diabetes patients' ability to self-manage and avoid disease complications by bolstering family, household, and community-based social support mechanisms. Type II Diabetes Mellitus (T2D) is a serious and growing public health problem that disproportionately affects African Americans. Research indicates that social networks can support individuals with T2D, especially in low-income African American (AA) communities. Family and community relationships influence an individual's ability to make successful diabetes-related behavior change, and thus the success of self-management, by providing positive reinforcement and sharing localized skills for maintaining healthy eating habits. DNT leverages these resources to create a smart-phone app that supports diabetes management communications within a specific micro- network (including household and family members and close friends), and community. The micro-network provides support for diabetes management behaviors in the context of that specific family/household, via private sharing of information such as healthy eating and food shopping tips as well as positive social reinforcement. The community network, using geo-fencing technology, allows location-specific information (e.g. about local food stores and health fairs) to be posted and shared. This exploratory research project focuses on three questions: 1) How can DNT, an mHealth technology application, be designed to enhance and facilitate social relationship-based support processes for T2D self-management related to food choice and diet among AAs? 2) What factors related to feasibility and cultural appropriateness affect DNT adoption and usage among AA with T2D? 3) What effect does DNT have on self-management as measured by clinical self-management outcomes: frequency of blood-glucose testing, reducing carb/sugar intake, and eating two or more servings of fruit/vegetables? Our team brings a unique combination of leaders and experts in user-centered design, social computing, mHealth, T2D, and behavioral science research. The project aims, corresponding to research questions, are to : 1) develop an initial DNT prototype, using a participatory design process; 2) introduce DNT to users in representative low-income African American communities and assess introduction and usage processes; and 3) conduct initial assessment of DNT usage in terms of changes in clinically defined T2D self- management outcomes. The proposed project is innovative in developing a locally and culturally-tailored mHealth application that enhances natural support systems to promote T2D management in a high risk AA population. The technology created for this application is general and easily applied other local communities. This project will help to improve diabetes-related behavioral interventions by increasing our understanding of how an augmented social support system affects diabetes management and potentially reduces disease complications. (from NIH RePORT)