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GlucoChat: a communication platform for the treatment of young patients with type I diabetes

The idea of being able to access a secure and relatively straightforward way of communicating with others as part of a social network definitely appeals to those who live several hundred kilometres away from a specialist doctor. However, data protection issues present a number of difficulties. careon, an e-health company from Tübingen, has found a solution by developing a platform for social network applications in which data remains confidential.

Patients are given access to virtual, i.e. online treatment rooms to share information with their treating doctors to discuss long-term treatment; the same space can be used to communicate with friends and relatives about issues that they do not wish to appear on Facebook. All rooms are digitally encrypted and information is deleted after a given period of time.

Data protection concept meets the high standards of the healthcare sector

Example of a GlucoChat page. © careon

“GlucoChat is a telemedicine project aimed at improving the care of chronically ill young patients with type I diabetes mellitus. We are attempting to find out whether modern communication technologies can effectively complement face-to-face meetings between patients and doctors and whether quality and efficiency of treatment can thus be improved,” said Dr. Guido W. Weber who is in charge of the product management division at careon.

Communication platforms like GlucoChat are based on a data protection compliant social network (Medical Social Network, MSN) where users can exchange messages confidentially, safely and easily. They also come with a video chat option to give users the impression that they are participating in a private conversation. Furthermore, a technology that enables the structured acquisition of data (electronic health records) for use during the course of medical treatment is required to ensure data quality. GlucoChat integrates these components in one single system.

Data protection guidelines are a key element in the implementation of the concept. “The preparation of a data protection concept and the coordination of the concept with public data protection authorities is an important milestone in the project,” said Weber.

Virtual treatment rooms are just as user-friendly as social networks

Example of a GlucoChat page. © coreon
Doctors, patients and relatives can meet in virtual GlucoChat treatment rooms in order to exchange information. Communication in the virtual treatment rooms is as easy as in a social network: all posts, files and comments are clearly displayed, information is shown in date order, and the conversation history is simple and easy to understand. “The virtual treatment room is set up by a doctor who then invites a particular patient to join him or her once written consent has been obtained from the patient or his or her legal guardians. With the patient’s agreement, other people such as nutritionists, can be invited into the virtual treatment room too,” Weber explains. Virtual online treatment rooms are used to discuss issues that do not require the physical presence of the young patients in the doctor’s practice. The treating doctors can deal with altered blood values and adjust the insulin dose almost instantaneously rather than waiting until the next doctor's visit. Doctors can give their patients immediate access to a new treatment regime by uploading the file with the necessary information to their virtual treatment room. Doctors can also print out conversation histories whenever they want and store data electronically (electronic patient records). The GlucoChat treatment room only stores information for as long as it is needed. Patients can leave the virtual treatment room at any time, in which case that particular treatment room with their doctor is deleted.

Conclusion

GlucoChat is not a traditional telemedicine application, but rather a platform for communication. It can be flexibly integrated into everyday medical practice as the communication in the virtual treatment rooms does not need to happen at a certain time. In contrast to telephone consultations, careon’s platform allows doctors to communicate with their patients whenever their diary allows them to do so.

One of the key questions the project hopes to answer relates to the time requirements of doctors who use virtual communication platforms; do they spend less, more or about the same amount of time as usual on a single patient? The doctors that are participating in the pilot project will not receive additional compensation. The ultimate goal of the project is to find out how doctors will be able to charge for communication solutions of this kind and to pave the way towards making a paying service possible.

Other issues that need to be evaluated include how patients deal with the anonymity of the web and the frequency of contact between patients and doctors. Whatever the outcome, GlucoChat is first and foremost designed as a communication platform that complements face-to-face meetings with doctors, rather than obviating them.

Outlook

GlucoChat is currently being evaluated by doctors and scientists at the St. Marien-Hospital diabetes outpatient department in Düren where young patients with type I diabetes who need to undergo long-term treatment are given information on the disease, treatment, appropriate medication doses as well as the use of GlucoChat. The communication platform will in future be used by the outpatient department’s interdisciplinary team of diabetologists, diabetes nurses, psychologists, paediatric nurses, nutrition scientists and social workers to increase communication with their chronically ill young patients and their families.

The GlucoChat concept opens up the possibility for numerous other applications in the field of medicine. A similar project will also be implemented in three departments of another university hospital in Baden-Württemberg in 2014.

Further information:

careon GmbH
Dr. Guido W. Weber
Head of Marketing & Sales
Österbergstraße 9
D-72074 Tübingen
Tel.: + 49 (0) 7071 920 570
Fax: + 49 (0) 7071 920 5722
E-mail: guido.weber@careon.de

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/glucochat-a-communication-platform-for-the-treatment-of-young-patients-with-type-i-diabetes