Diabetes UK iPhone App by Public Zone and write a review of it. In a proper bloggy 'disclosure' type way I should point out at this point that I have not been paid to write this review and although approached to be part of a focus group earlier in the project (I was not able to take part) I have had no part in the development of the app. The app is a free download in the iTunes App Store. What follows is simply my own appraisal having tinkered with the app this weekend. No more, no less. I should probably also point out that I am fairly picky by nature and can almost always find fault with anything. If you want to know my general feeling read the 'overview', if you want a fuller breakdown of what I thought proceed to the nitty gritty.
D Tracker is an application that allows you to record all sorts of Diabetes-related information on a variety of Apple devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch running IOS 4.2+). I am not sure if the intention is to create versions for other mobile device architectures eg Android, but I guess a successful launch could lead to other versions.
I've had various periods of diligent record-keeping and complete data deserts in my time. But what I do know from experience is that keeping an accurate record of, at the very least, your BG, doses, food intake and level of activity/illness is hugely helpful in trying to spot patterns and improve diabetic control. After a period of recording in notebooks I have in more recent years converted to recording electronically. And the ability to do so quickly and easily with something that is in my pocket anyway makes an app potentially an ideal solution.
I am aware as I write this, that Diabetes UK have had a pretty tricky job on their hands in putting this app together. They represent all different types of people diabetes, from the regular types one and two to other more exotic versions. They also deal with anyone from the newly diagnosed to old hands like me. Parents and carers of diabetic children or relatives. Occasional record keepers and data junkies.
I have to say, with a few reservations, that I think they've done a great job. There are some great fresh ideas here, and some really useful tools that I've not seen in other recording apps, or at least not all in one place. I think this is part of the challenge in developing a new app. There are plenty of others already available, so the trick is doing everything well and also trying to bring something new.
Data entry and editing is easy enough, and there is a LOT of data that you can enter and track. From the obvious blood glucose and insulin doses to carbs, ketones, calories and weight. You can even record how you are feeling at any entry to track the effect of mood and stress levels. Adding a note (which you can even share with Facebook or Twitter of you are so inclined) allows you to record any other info relating to the entry.
Recorded results can be shown on either daily or per-week graphs on which you can show any or all of the data you have recorded by way of colour coded data points and (in some cases) connecting lines that show the trend. The list view is just that, a vertical scrolling list of the records. It might have been nice to have an option for a tabular format, but I suppose with the number of data entries that can be stored in each record a table was felt impractical.
I particularly liked the way that different records can be flagged as 'talking points'. These are then stored as a list (in folders if you want to organise things still further) for later reference in the 'My Health' section.
Another first, and stroke of genius I felt, was that you can take a photograph as part of a record. I was taught to count carbs at diagnosis, but I realise that this is not the case for everyone, particularly type 2s. If estimating carbs on a plate at 50 yards is not second nature to you, you could simply photograph what you ate, record your BG levels and then have that image to refer back to when trying to analyse the results that follow.
Now this being a Diabetes UK sponsored app (and free to boot) you will not be surprised to hear that here are links and contact details to DUK and the Careline; and yes, even a 'donate now' button to support the Charity's work - but these are very low key and certainly do not get in the way of the app's main functionality. There are also very useful pieces of pop-up explanatory text every so often providing extra information about weight, BMI and so on, with links to the DUK website.
The 'My Health' section allows you to keep track of all sorts of other bits of info, your latest HbA1c for example, neatly date-stamped when the entry was created or updated. You can also keep track of forthcoming appointments, contact details and so on, keeping all your diabetes stuff in one place for easy reference, and perhaps even 'in case of emergency' use.
The nitty gritty
So far, so good. But here is where I put on my picky hat. Sorry about that. There are lots of different diabetes and weight-monitoring apps on the market, and I think this app does what it sets out to do. Depending on the level of data analysis you are after, the D Tracker will either suit you, or not.
One of the strangest things about the app for me is that there are almost no user-definable settings or adjustments that can be made to tailor it to your own preferences. Weight must be entered in stones and pounds. Ketones must be entered in mmol/L. Even the 'How are you feeling' choices are predefined and unchangeable.
I also have a bit of a problem with the graphs. This always seems to be an aspect of these apps that I struggle with. For a start the graphs only ever show in portrait orientation, and at the scale of the single day graph, each day is so long that if takes fully five screens' width to get from midnight to midnight. Five. Added to this the vertical scale is fixed to the apps max and min values. In BG terms this runs 0-33mmol/L which, combined with that long x-axis made some rather erratic entries I made look reassuringly flat. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the graphs can carry lots of different data sets, depending on what you elect to track, so there is no information shown about what the y-axis represents. I can't tell whether I was high or hypo, only get a vague sense of whether I was going up or down. Some colour-coded dotted horizontal markers for max/min or target levels which turned on and off with their respective data would have been a great help. On the graphs, some data points are joined by lines, others (insulin doses for example) are shown as data points only. Oddly it was decided to track carbohydrate consumption with a trend line linking different meals in the day. I'm not entirely sure why that was.
The 'week' view gives a list of days with their data either averaged (eg blood glucose) or shown as totals (eg insulin doses). This data can also be shown on a graph, again without the benefit of a y-axis legend. There is no apparent data analysis for a wider scope than a calendar week. If you want to see how things shape up over 14, 30, 60 or 90 days you would need to get your calculator out. More detailed number crunching for BG data, to offer Standard Deviation for example, is not available.
While I love the 'Save as a talking point' feature, I do wish it was not restricted to individual records. More often than not, what I find I want to discuss is a whole day's worth of results, or at very least a sequence of before and after.
The real disappointment for me as far as this app goes though is this - there is no way of exporting your carefully recorded data at all. The best you can do is to email yourself an image of one of the less than perfect graphs. Different BG recording apps seem to take different approaches to data export. Some link you in to online accounts where your data can be uploaded, others (including my favourite) allow you to simply email yourself a copy of the tabular data and a .csv file that (depending on your level of geekery) you could import into a spreadsheet program and manipulate to your heart's content. The D Tracker offers neither. If I record my data with it I cannot print out my results and take them to my next clinic appointment. If I want to leave the data with my team, I'd need to leave my device.
I think the D Tracker is a great first effort from Diabetes UK. They, and their developers are to be congratulated on providing a very useful tool for monitoring a very complex condition. There are some great features and functions here, and some very interesting new ideas. I'm sure many will find it a great help, and I look forward to seeing new and improved versions in the future.
Final score: 3.5/5
Get the Diabetes UK D-Tracker App free here.