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9th October 2014

The next step in glucose monitoring – a smartphone?

Managing diabetes takes practice and you need the right tools to do it. We do have good tools today, but Bastian thinks we can do better.

The knowledge and treatment of diabetes has come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century, when scientists at the University of Toronto discovered insulin in 1921. Managing the condition has evolved from doctor-administered insulin and blood monitoring in specialised labs, to being managed and controlled largely by patients themselves with portable blood glucose monitors, and insulin being administered at home.

Still, though treatable, managing the condition can still be quite a handful. Most patients don’t follow their treatment with the consistency that is recommended by doctors.

What’s challenging for people with diabetes is that it is a condition that needs to be managed regularly and carefully. It’s unpleasant and a bit of a hassle to prick the finger regularly to get blood sugar levels, and it needs to be done at least three times per day. There are other tasks to deal with daily, such as oral medication and insulin injections.

“I love my CGM, and how it’s allowed me to sail around the world”

Bastian Hauck, a thirtysomething sailor from Germany, has diabetes type II. He keeps tabs on his diabetes daily with the gear that he has with him all day. While Hauck appreciates the role his treatment and medical tech played in giving him increased autonomy and independence, he says it’s still a lot to handle on a daily basis.

Hauck has a CGM, or a constant glucose monitor, a relatively new invention. It is a three-part system that constantly monitors the patient’s glucose levels at all times. It is based on the monitoring of glucose levels of interstitial fluid, or the fluid that is between cells.

“I love my CGM, and how it’s allowed me to sail around the world, even while having diabetes,” says Bastian.

However, Bastian says it still feels clunky. “I have to carry the CGM sensor, the CGM’s receiver, the insulin injections, the blood glucose meter, and my phone with the app I use to keep track of my health,” says Bastian. “These devices all work wonderfully, but they work in isolation from each other. What I’d really like to see is devices that work together.”

In order to make people follow their treatment more closely, tools for managing diabetes at home are becoming increasingly portable and easier to use. These days, formerly bulky glucose monitors look more like iPod nanos. Still, as a patient, Bastian believes there’s more potential for development.

“Technology wise, it would be possible for me to simply have a CGM sensor that could directly connect to my phone, so I could just keep track of my glucose levels with a phone app,” says Bastian. “My doctor could receive constant updates on my glucose levels, which they could check remotely.”

Indeed, with the amount of diabetes patients increasing steadily over the years, medical technology moving towards that direction, as keeping patients out of hospitals is a lot cheaper for public healthcare (and patients!) There are already glucose monitors that send information wirelessly to gadgets, or are directly plugged into iPhones. Future medical technology for the future for diabetes is moving towards increasing portability, better integration, and less invasive methods for monitoring.

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