eLearning helps – bridge gap in diabetes management

While working in the remote Indigneous community of Maningrida, Arnhem Land, Associate Professor Elif Ekinci (MBBS (Hons) 2000, PhD 2011) became acutely aware of the enormity of diabetes as a disease. The experience confirmed her career pathway dedicated to improving the lives of diabetes sufferers.

Professor Ekinci saw very young people develop diabetes – and many die from diabetes-related complications – as part of the John Flynn Placement Program that she undertook during her medical training.

“Diabetes affects Indigenous Australians drastically and dramatically,” she said. “A lot of these deaths perhaps could have been prevented; these were young people, in their 30s and 40s.”

Diabetes is the fastest-growing chronic condition in Australia, with one person on average being diagnosed with it every five minutes, and increasing in prevalence faster than any other chronic disease, including heart disease and cancer.

“You could see this was going to be the disease of the century because of the rapid change in lifestyle where we are much more sedentary, our diets are comprised of more refined carbohydrates and we no longer gather our own food,” she said.

“It’s one of the worst epidemics of our time due to the high volume of people it affects and the complications associated with it. Once diagnosed, people with diabetes now live longer and it’s important to get things managed well from the start to ensure they are not disabled by this condition and its complications.”

The experience at Maningrida was life-forming; Professor Ekinci went on to work in the field of diabetic kidney disease within the Indigenous community.

More recently, as the Director of Diabetes at Austin Health, she founded the Diabetes Discovery program, where all patients 54 and over are automatically screened for diabetes by administering a HbA1c test on admission. The test immediately identifies at-risk patients or those who have poorly controlled diabetes, prior to any medical intervention.

“We established a world-first initiative which allows us to rapidly identify sick people and see them quickly rather than waiting for the traditional referral system,” she said.

Professor Ekinci acknowledged the field was changing rapidly, particularly in the last five years, where the emergence of new medications and technologies made it tough for clinicians to keep up with the latest advances.

To address this knowledge gap, she embarked on a new venture, Diabetes Academy – What’s New in Diabetes, to equip healthcare professionals with up-to-date knowledge to better manage increasing numbers of patients with diabetes and help improve outcomes.

“I’m very well supported by fantastic clinicians, who want to improve the outcomes of patients, and it wasn’t hard to get enthusiastic clinicians to become involved with this project,” she said.

Professor Ekinci engaged the Mobile Learning Unit to deliver what she considers to be the perfect package for busy practitioners, who are able to access knowledge and upskill using mobile technology such as smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.

“People don’t want to spend their weekend attending workshops or externally-run courses, because it’s the time they want to spend with their families, or maybe they are in rural and remote areas and not able to physically turn up to a workshop or course,” she said.

Diabetes Academy – What’s New in Diabetes, is an interactive CPD-accredited course focused on important recent changes and best-practice principles in diabetes management. Modules cover the latest medications (GLP1 drugs, SGLT2 inhibitors and DPP4 inhibitors) and technologies (insulin pump therapy and continuous blood glucose monitoring), the management of pre-existing diabetes through pregnancy, diabetes in pregnancy, and strategies for optimising lipid control and blood pressure management.

Not content with just transferring best practice and knowledge to healthcare professionals, Professor Ekinci plans to develop  a complementary online education program for people living with diabetes.

“If GPs know the latest information, this will translate to patients, and the next step for us is to look at developing a course aimed specifically at enhancing patient education,” she added. “By the time I’m finished my career I would like to think we’ve done a lot for diabetes in terms of prevention and complications, and, perhaps even, cure this disease.”

To find out more about courses currently available, or if you are interested in creating a mobile learning program contact mobile-learning@unimelb.edu.au