By far, consumer health and fitness apps and devices ruled the exhibitor floor at the 2012 Digital Health Summit. But arguably the second-most popular theme for new digital health technology was diabetes and obesity-management platforms and devices.
There are already hundreds of diabetes-related apps and devices on the market that allow patients to track and store their glucose levels throughout the day and relay that information to physicians or mobile devices — so why would we need more?
Aside from the fact that the market is growing, as nearly 26 million Americans currently live with diabetes, the problem isn’t really being solved. “We’re good at taking care of diabetes once we know we have it, but awareness at pre-diabetes is pretty low,” said Deepak Prakash, a manager at Avery Dennison Medical Solutions.
“We need to dig a little deeper into human behavior,” said DiabetesMine founder and editor Amy Tendrich, who sat on a panel of experts and discussed how technology could help the U.S. overcome the diabetes and obesity epidemics. The most successful technologies that can help manage and eventually prevent diabetes and obesity don’t just churn out data, but interpret that data, put it in context and explain to the user how it’s going to affect them.
Or, as Craig Lipset, head of clinical innovation at Pfizer Inc., put it: “Devices enable sophisticated ways of collecting and aggregating data and turning it into actionable information.”
BodyMedia FIT, which brought weight-loss guru Jillian Michaels to CES to endorse its line of armbands for weight loss, is one example. When worn all day, the armbands measure a person’s steps taken, sleep patterns and calorie output, and then recommends activity and dietary adjustments to the user based on that data.
That feedback step is especially important in diabetes programs and devices, Tendrich said, because many diabetes patients admit taking their blood glucose levels several times a day without knowing what the numbers really mean.
The Telcare blood glucose monitoring system labels itself as the “world’s first FDA-cleared cellular-enabled blood glucose meter.” Aside from tracking, organizing and charting blood glucose data, it generates clinical feedback and coaching to the user and sends data via text message to caregivers — say, a mother whose diabetic child goes to school during the day. The meter can also receive text messages in return.
Tendrich offered advice to new companies developing new digital technology for these diseases: Make it community based — or even competitive; make it fun; allow it to reward the user over time in order to avoid burnout; make it affordable; and enable automated communication from the device or app.