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Background: The current state of diabetes self-management (DSM) education and support for diabetic patients is inadequate, especially for minority women who experience disproportionately high rates of diabetes mellitus (DM) in the US. While DSM education and support enables individuals with diabetes to make positive lifestyle choices and achieve clinical goals, this type of support is difficult to deliver in medical practice settings. Virtual reality can assist DM patients and their clinical teams by providing effective educational tools in an engaging, learner-centered environment that fosters self-efficacy and skill proficiency.
Methods: Our prior research demonstrated that virtual worlds are suitable for supporting DSM education. Building upon this success, we are now investigating whether DSM virtual world medical group visits lead to similarly effective health and educational outcomes compared to face-to-face medical group visits. Currently in year one of a five year randomized controlled trial, we aim to compare the effectiveness of a virtual world DSM medical group visit format versus a face-to-face DSM medical group visit format to increase physical activity and improve glucose control (HbA1c) among Black/African American and Hispanic women with uncontrolled DM. We will also conduct a qualitative study of participant engagement with the virtual world platform to characterize learners’ interactions with the technology and assess its correlation with DSM behaviors and diabetes control.
Discussion: Novel methods to promote diabetes self-management are critically needed, and the use of virtual world technology to conduct medical group visits offers a unique approach to such issue. If successful, our intervention will increase access to culturally-sensitive diabetes care and improve patient engagement in online DSM learning, leading to higher uptake of DSM behaviors and better diabetes control. Importantly, the program can be easily expanded to other chronic disease areas and scaled for widespread use.