The impact of telemedicine on patients with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes mellitus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Saudi Arabia: Findings and implications

J Telemed Telecare. 2021 Feb 1;1357633X20985763. doi: 10.1177/1357633X20985763. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Routine diabetes care changed during the COVID-19 pandemic due to precautionary measures such as lockdowns, cancellation of in-person visits, and patients' fear of being infected when attending clinics. Because of the pandemic, virtual clinics were implemented to provide diabetes care. Therefore, we conducted this study to assess the impact of these virtual clinics on glycaemic control among high-risk patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM).

Methods: A prospective single-cohort pre-/post telemedicine care intervention study was conducted on 130 patients with type 2 DM attending a virtual integrated care clinic at a chronic Illness center in a family and community medicine department in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: The mean age of the participants was 57 years (standard deviation (SD) = 12) and the mean (SD) duration of diabetes was 14 (7) years. Over a period of 4 months, the HbA1c decreased significantly from 9.98 ± 1.33 pre-intervention to 8.32 ± 1.31 post-intervention (mean difference 1.66 ± 1.29; CI = 1.43-1.88; P <0.001). In addition, most in-person care visits were successfully replaced, as most patients (64%) needed only one or two in-person visits during the 4-month period, compared with typically one visit every 1-2 weeks in the integrated care programme before the pandemic for this group of high-risk patients.

Discussion: The current study found a significant positive impact of telemedicine care on glycaemic control among high-risk patients with DM during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, it showed that telemedicine could be integrated into diabetic care to successfully replace many of the usual in-person care visits. Consequently, health policy makers need to consider developing comprehensive guidelines in Saudi Arabia for telemedicine care to, ensure the quality of care and address issues such as financial reimbursement and patient information privacy.

Keywords: COVID-19; Saudi Arabia; Telemedicine; uncontrolled diabetes mellitus.