Mobile app to help pregnant manage gestational diabetes being tested by NUH doctors

Women with gestational diabetes - high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy - and who experience high weight gain during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing diabetes afterwards.
Women with gestational diabetes - high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy - and who experience high weight gain during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing diabetes afterwards.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A mobile app that helps track the weight and blood glucose levels of pregnant women with gestational diabetes is being studied to look at how effective it is in keeping their condition under control.

The National University Hospital (NUH) clinical trial, SMART-GDM, in collaboration with medical technology firm Jana Care, started in September (2017), and has recruited 20 pregnant women so far. The goal is to recruit 340 in the next 10 months. Half the participants will use the app as well as a special weighing scale, and the rest will be in a control group.

Women with gestational diabetes - high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy - and who experience high weight gain during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing diabetes afterwards. They are also more likely to give birth to large babies. Heavy babies are at a higher risk of developing childhood obesity. In Singapore, gestational diabetes affects one in five pregnant women here - this is one of the highest rates in the world.

While most pregnant women with the condition meet their gynaecologists regularly, some as often as weekly, many still feel anxious as they are left to manage the condition on their own on most days, said Dr Claudia Chi, a consultant at NUH's department of obstetrics and gynaecology, a co-investigator of the study.

"It is not something they can just take a tablet and forget about, it influences their daily activity... it can create a lot of stress and anxiety," she said.

"We feel if there is anything, like an app, that can help them along this period, it will certainty benefit them. At the end of the day, we hope that it will result in better pregnancy outcomes as well as a change in lifestyle towards a healthier one."

The women using the app will be given a device that reads blood glucose test strips, which can be plugged into their smartphones. Once plugged in, their blood glucose readings will be automatically synced to the mobile app.

They will also be given a weighing scale that can be synced to the mobile app via bluetooth, allowing them to track their weight easily. Typically, a pregnant woman gains between 12 to 15kg throughout her pregnancy.

The mobile app can also be used to track their food intake and exercise, and comes with information on gestational diabetes as well as a robotic health coach, which prompts them when their blood glucose levels are high or low, or when they are gaining weight too quickly.

The robotic health coach is able to, for instance, highlight which meal might have contributed to a high blood glucose reading.

Dr Yew Tong Wei, consultant at NUH's division of endocrinology, and NUH lead investigator of the study, said that pregnant women with gestational diabetes currently review their blood glucose readings only when they see their doctor, which is typically once every two weeks, or monthly.

"They just accumulate a month of readings, they come, and by then they have forgotten what might have caused a high reading. This app gives immediate feedback on the scores," he said.

The results of the study are expected to be ready in about 18 months.