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29 July 2020 4 min read

Picture this. You or your loved one is pregnant. Everything is going great until you hear two words: gestational diabetes.

Just ask Brisbane mum of three, Stacey Bailey.

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

Around one in 10 pregnant patients are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Basically, it's a type of diabetes that occurs in the second part of the pregnancy. It's caused by changes in hormone levels during pregnancy that change how the body processes blood sugar. Fortunately, it generally goes away once the baby is born. However, it does require careful monitoring by the patient and a team of clinicians to make sure everyone is okay. 

That's where we come in. We worked with Mater  Mothers'  Hospital and Redland Hospital to fast-track an implementation study for an app called MTHer. This new app supports pregnant patients to manage their gestational diabetes and helps their clinical team support them better. 

Making managing gestational diabetes easy 

Patients with gestational diabetes have to carefully track key health readings and share them with their clinical team. This is usually manual, by a combination of paper, email, phone and fax.  

Our new platform aims to replace manual record-keeping with an online platform. So instead of clinicians accessing a patient's data every week or two, they can now see how their patients are tracking, almost immediately, from wherever they are. 

The MTHer platform includes a mobile app, which the patient can use to monitor their blood glucose levels, blood pressure, diet, exercise and weight. The app also contains informative resources to support the patient in managing their gestational diabetes. 

The patient's readings are automatically shared to a clinician web portal. Here, their dietitian, diabetes educator, midwife and obstetrician can monitor their progress frequently. Having it so accessible means the clinicians can intervene if needed – like calling a patient to give specific and immediate advice if their blood sugar levels have changed too much. 

“Using the app, 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," Stacey said.

Not just a twinkle in our eyes 

Our platform aims to make managing gestational diabetes easier for both patients and their clinicians. Our scientists trialled the platform in an initial feasibility study. Forty women used the platform during treatment at Redland Hospital, Queensland, in 2017 and 2018. Our results found the platform improved communication between patients and clinicians. 

The women said the app was user-friendly, convenient, and helpful in managing their gestational diabetes. It also gave them more confidence in managing their condition. Importantly, the platform enabled clinicians to step in without delay if the patients recorded high blood sugar readings. 

Following these promising results, we're now rolling out the platform to more than 1000 people at Mater Mothers’ and Redland Hospitals in Queensland. This is an implementation study, which is the next key step in making MTHer more widely availableThe team is also planning to expand the study to Logan and Beaudesert Hospitals in Queensland. 

An online MTHers club 

COVID-19 has seen us embrace telehealth and mobile health options more readily. Especially as we aim to be socially distant to limit the spread of the disease. Telehealth and mobile health help make healthcare more accessible to more people. Our researchers are optimistic that their use will continue to grow, especially as we continue our fight against COVID-19. 

Project lead Dr Marlien Varnfield said it's critically important to consider our long-term health outcomes.

"We need to be proactively taking care of our health and wellbeing rather than waiting for issues to escalate," Marlien said.  

"Patients and health services around Australia are embracing telehealth and mobile health solutions like MTHer to deliver preventative health care remotely throughout this pandemic. 

"This way of delivering care will continue to be useful even as social distancing measures are relaxed," she said.  

Dr David Hansen, CEO of our Australian e-Health Research Centre, agrees. 

"Using apps that provide data straight to our care teams is the next stage of bringing in digital as a core way of delivering healthcare," he said.  

As for Stacey, she hopes the platform will make dealing with gestational diabetes a bit easier for expectant parents.

“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.”

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