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Can Wireless Technology Help Treat Diabetes?

Tijuana diabetes patients are testing wireless technology to see if it can help them manage their disease. It's a collaboration between health centers and wireless technology companies in both San Diego and Tijuana.

The trial involves about 360 patients at a clinic in Tijuana's east side. About 16,000 patients at the clinic have diabetes. The disease is one of the biggest public health problems along the US-Mexico border.

The program is modeled after one started at Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute 13 years ago. It uses peer educators, who themselves have diabetes, and nurses to keep in close contact with patients.

Tijuana's trial adds Qualcomm's 3G wireless technology.

Peggy Johnson is Qualcomm's Vice President for the Americas and India.

"We just took a look at the problem and thought with out chip technology we could really bring some cutting edge health care to an underserved community right along the border," she said.

The patients will use wireless glucometers to check their blood sugar levels and transmit results directly to a hospital database. It will flag patients whose levels are off so nurses and doctors can contact them.

A Tijuana company has donated cell phones so patients, doctors and nurses can keep in touch, and patients can download educational videos.

Athena Philis-Tsimikas is the Vice President of Scripps Whittieer Diabetes Institute. She says diabetes complications in patients can be dramatically reduced, "but if you can't communicate to them, or they don't have access to the care, you'll never achieve those reductions -- ultimately reductions in heart attacks, amputations and blindness. So, using this method could achieve some of those improvements that we're looking for."

San Diego's International Community Foundation helped bring together Qualcomm, Scripps, the Tijuana IMMS clinic and the Tijuana cell phone company Iusacel to help diabetes patients. Foundation President Richard Kiy says many of the IMMS clinic's diabetes patients work in Tijuana's maquiladoras and they delay going to the doctor because it can mean missing work and many hours on buses to get to the clinic.

Philis-Tsimikas says that if the Tijuana trial shows wireless technology is effective then bringing the technology across the border to San Diego could improve Scripps Whittier's diabetes program.

"Just like in Tijuana there are many people who are hard to reach, in San Diego we have many people who are hard to reach as well," she said.

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