Diabetes patients, doctors want better access to virtual care

At a time when our lives are increasingly moving online, diabetes patients say the pandemic has highlighted the need for greater access to new technologies that help them manage their disease, virtually.  

Continuous glucose monitors allow patients to see their blood sugar levels in real time

Kate Beaulieu, 15, says managing her diabetes has become more complicated during the pandemic. (Submitted by Kate Beaulieu)

At a time when our lives are increasingly moving online, diabetes patients say the pandemic has highlighted the need for greater access to new technologies that help them manage their disease virtually. 

People living with chronic conditions including diabetes are at increased risk of developing more severe cases of COVID-19. 

Properly managing diabetes, and thereby avoiding unnecessary visits to doctors and hospitals, also takes pressure off the health-care system during the pandemic, according to Dr. Jeremy Gilbert, an endocrinologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

One way to do that, he said, is through such innovations as continuous glucose monitors, a wearable device that every few minutes sends data about a person's blood sugar levels to a monitor, such as a cell phone. Those results can then be shared directly with a patient's physician.

"With the use of telemedecine and remote visits and virtual visits, this now is an opportunity for us to help our patients do better," said Gilbert.

Dr. Jeremy Gilbert is an endocrinologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. (Submitted by Dr. Jeremy Gilbert)

Some people with the disease have access to that technology through private insurance providers, but Gilbert said cost is a barrier to its wider use.

November is National Diabetes Awareness month, and Diabetes Canada is pushing for provincial governments to fund access to flash and continuous glucose monitors for more of the estimated one in three Canadians living with the disease.

Gilbert said he'd also support greater access to the technology for certain patients, particularly those living with Type 1 diabetes.

Technology helps, teen says

The pandemic has made it more complicated for Kate Beaulieu, 15, to manage her Type 1 diabetes.

The Ottawa teen and her parents weighed whether it was wise to send her back to school and continue working her part-time grocery store job, given the increased risk those with diabetes could face if they contract COVID-19.

Beaulieu wears a continuous glucose monitor, which is paid for through her parents' health-care coverage at their work. The data is then sent to her and her mother's cellphone, and can easily be shared with her endocrinologist so they can make decisions about her health.

"A lot of people don't understand the huge struggles with Type 1 and ... we really need to well manage it, especially during this time of COVID, too. So I think people do need to be more aware of how much diabetics do to stay well-managed, to be like every other person," Beaulieu said.

WATCH | How managing diabetes has worked this year:

Mother, daughter speak of stress around managing diabetes in a pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 1:32
Kate Beaulieu, 15, has Type 1 diabetes. She and her mother Karen said she has to focus on managing it during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to be able to go to school and maintain her extracurriculars.

The teen said she'd like to see more people have the same level of access to continuous glucose monitors that she does. 

"Without one ... it's not as easy to manage your diabetes because you don't really know what's going to be happening, but with a glucose monitor you always know what your blood sugars are," said Beaulieu. 

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