With peak numbers hitting four lakhs per day in India in April and May 2021, we will also see many people coming with issues in the post-COVID recovery phase, especially those with diabetes. While everyone is mostly focused on saving lives, recovery is highly neglected. The objective of optimal recovery should be to get people back to their normal lives with pre-COVID energy and health levels.
Firstly, diabetes predisposes people to higher hospitalisation rates, complications (even black fungus or mucormycosis) and mortality. Secondly, they have a very turbulent recovery phase which can stretch into weeks. The steroids given during the treatment and recovery phase wreak havoc on the blood sugar levels, with a lot of them requiring insulin injections and close monitoring.
Latest studies also show that 14 percent of people with COVID may have new-onset diabetes in the recovery phase, adding to the statistics further. Added problems include persistent cough, breathing issues, weakness, muscle wasting, body aches, anxiety, and subclinical psychological issues. All of these issues require a multi-disciplinary approach to help people get back to life faster.
The pandemic has laid bare the gaps in healthcare have come to the fore in the pandemic. Doctors and health systems are burdened with actual COVID cases, and this added wave of post-COVID issues is threatening to break the healthcare infrastructure completely.
Digital Therapeutics approach
Briefly, digital therapeutics is the next evolution of digital health where technology-aided healthcare solutions enable better outcomes. Globally, the DTx industry is growing at a CGR of more than 40 percent and is finding applications for diabetes, obesity, orthopedic, neurological conditions and mental health. Post-COVID Recovery is one such area of current human interest.
The ideal components of a post-COVID recovery DTx program for people with diabetes should include the following, beyond a doctor’s prescription:
Personalised Nutrition plans: Nutritionist consultation, diet analysis and a personalised approach to the plan can help in better blood sugar control and faster recovery, keeping in mind the loss of appetite, smell and taste during the recovery phase. The diet plan should focus not just on macro but also micronutrients, in order to improve immunity.
Personalised Physiotherapy plans: This includes a fitness assessment and physical rehabilitation schedule to aid in both pulmonary (lung) and musculoskeletal system (muscles/ joints) recovery. The plan needs to be individualized for age, energy levels and pace of recovery. Physiotherapy also aids in better blood sugar control by improving insulin resistance.
Focus on mental well-being: People who were admitted in the hospital have seen deaths and morbidity around them and this could leave permanent scars. Even if they were not hospitalized, they might have seen their loved one’s struggle with or even lose life to COVID-19. The patients may have baggage of stress, anxiety, depression, a sense of blame or guilt, worthlessness during the recovery phase and all these impede the recovery as well as impair blood sugar levels. A clinical psychologist can help the patients with mental and emotional wellbeing in this critical phase helping them with acceptance and moving on.
Remote, multi-disciplinary monitoring and support: Regular monitoring of blood sugars, signs of any new infection coming up or recovery pace are important to keep patients on track to a quick recovery. The remote nature of the solution also makes it convenient for people to adopt it.
Cost-effective solution: The cost of the solution more than makes up for the health, energy, potential cost of consequent medical care and productivity.
While DTx ticks on a lot of right checkboxes for post-COVID recovery for people with diabetes, there are certain cases where it can’t be used. People who are still sick, can’t take care of themselves or require intensive nursing support may not be suitable for a post-COVID DTx program.
To summarize, a Digital Therapeutic First approach can help people with Diabetes in the post-COVID recovery phase. This can save time, money and bring effective care to them using the power of technology. Doctors and DTx platforms should work together to get people back on track to full health and productivity while ensuring less long-term sequelae.
(The writer is CEO & Cofounder, Fitterfly Healthtech-a digital therapeutics company working in the field of diabetes, pregnancy, obesity and PCOS)