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Diabetes info just a text message away

A third-year health-sciences student at McMaster University is helping diabetes sufferers in First Nations communities better manage their disease, and he’s doing it through text messaging.


Last fall, Michael Mak started a placement at K-Net, an initiative that develops information technology resources for a small tribal council in northwestern Ontario. During his time there, he developed DiabeTEXTs, a system that allows health-care workers to send educational diabetes information in mass text messages to all their patients at once via cellphone.

“The best thing is that the patients can also text back questions for quick replies,” says Mr. Mak, who specializes in the global health stream of McMaster’s health sciences program. Because many First Nations communities lack infrastructure, cellphones are a more reliable means of communication than the Internet.

The text messages focus on educating patients, particularly about lifestyle habits that improve Type 2 diabetes. “For example, reminding them to engage in a particular amount of exercise,” he says, “or about the amount of meat they have to eat each day.”

Brian Beaton, project coordinator at K-Net, says he respects Mr. Mak’s “go-getter” attitude towards the project and his decision to stay in Canada. “Most of his classmates went someplace else in the world for their placement,” he says. “But Michael took a stance and said we need to take care of our own backyard first.”

The decision paid off. In November, Mr. Mak won the Agfa HealthCare Innovation Challenge that asked students to come up with an innovative idea for the delivery of health care. Mr. Mak’s system has been set up in five First Nations communities and he hopes to expand the program to other regions.

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