HumanInsight The impact of a prolonged lockdown and utilization of diabetes telemedicine on cardiometabolic health in people with diabetes during the COVID-19 outbreak in Saudi Arabia
Prim Care Diabetes. 2022 Jun 27:S1751-9918(22)00107-3. doi: 10.1016/j.pcd.2022.06.002. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVE: To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia implemented a nationwide lockdown that lasted for approximately five months. Due to the limited availability of telemedicine in Saudi Arabia, many people with diabetes (PWD) lost access to diabetes care services during the lockdown period. Here, we examined the impact of lockdown on cardiometabolic health in PWD and how this may have differed between those who utilized diabetes telemedicine during lockdown versus those who did not.
METHODS: Hemoglobin A1C (A1C), body weight, lipid, and other cardiometabolic parameters were retrospectively reviewed in 384 PWD who attended routine clinic visits in the pre-lockdown (September 2019 to March 2020) and post-lockdown (Aug to Dec 2020) periods. Changes in cardiometabolic parameters from pre- to post-lockdown were compared across 3 groups according to the type of visit that they had during lockdown (April to July 2020): "no visit" (n = 215), "in-person" visit (n = 44), or "virtual" visit (n = 125). The virtual visits in our institution followed a simplified protocol that utilized technological tools readily available to most PWD and clinicians.
RESULTS: PWD who attended "virtual" visits during lockdown were the youngest and most likely to have type 1 diabetes; followed by those who attended "in-person" visits and those who had "no visit". A significant reduction in A1C from pre- to post-lockdown periods was noted in PWD who attended a "virtual visit" (9.02 to 8.27%, respectively, p < 0.01) and those who attended an "in-person" visit (9.18 to 8.43%, respectively, p < 0.05) but not in those who had "no visit" (8.75 to 8.57%, p > 0.05). No significant changes were noted in serum glucose, blood pressure, or lipid parameters during the lockdown in any of the groups.
CONCLUSION: Simplified telemedicine visits, including real-time audio calls, were as effective as in-person visits in improving glycemic control in PWD during the lockdown period in a country where telemedicine infrastructure was not well-established. Older adults and those with type 2 diabetes were less likely to utilize telemedicine; suggesting a potential risk of digital divide that warrants greater attention in the future.
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