How to separate wheat from chaff in the diabetes mHealth onslaught

There’s a flood of new smart health devices, particularly for those seeking help managing diabetes. For those trying to pick the best, it will pay to know the difference between those that are cleared by the FDA and those that are not. In many cases, it’s all about the data.

Connected devices and applications that monitor patient health are critical drivers increasing the personalization of medicine. They put patients in the driver’s seat while providing physicians with a steady stream of data to better manage patient health beyond the office visit.

In fact, results from a 2013 survey indicate that 43 percent of physicians tapped into mobile health technology for clinical purposes, and recent findings suggest that number has only continued to increase (Deloitte).

Now, platforms like Apple’s HealthKit, coupled with other apps and smart devices, are attempting to consolidate healthcare management into the hands of patients in increasingly intuitive and simple ways. Data analytics, connectivity and mobile adoption are propelling this steady trend of change from the way patients view self-care to patient and physician interactions.

The Future of Health

The impact of mHealth has been particularly palpable among people living with diabetes, as the monitoring and reporting of daily routines is essential to ensuring the best quality of life. While this may seem like a straightforward process, it is actually a time-consuming and data-intensive procedure.

To illustrate, we can take a look at the most critical dimension of effective diabetes management, namely routine self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG) levels. For insulin-requiring diabetes, keeping an eye on blood glucose levels is key to preventing the extreme highs and lows (i.e. hyper- or hypoglycemia) that can have dire health outcomes.

When properly managed, the recording and reviewing of the SMBG data can lead to adjustments in medication as well as diet and exercise habits to promote better health. Such proactive steps offer the potential of helping individuals avoid life-threatening complications down the road.

However, all too often patients fail to maintain accuracy in their record keeping and even forget to do it all together, especially when they have to manually do it and personally relay the information to their physician.

Fortunately, FDA approvals of diabetes monitoring apps show how far digital health has come in addressing the needs of the 29.1 million Americans who manage the disease on a daily basis, and bodes well for those dealing with other chronic diseases. In addition, the recent decision by the FDA to not enforce compliance with Medical Device Data Systems (MDDS) regulations will surely promote growth and innovation in the space. But these new technologies should be evaluated with a wary eye.

While not required, an FDA stamp-of-approval can mean the difference between real, actionable results and ‘cool’ stats or devices that ultimately may not deliver what is promised.

In addition to increasing convenience and effectiveness for users, mHealth technology also makes the physician’s routine more effective. Access to near real-time data provide a window into a patient’s daily routine. Armed with these insights, a physician is able to focus on proactive care measures instead of being forced into a reactive model that is far too often the outgrowth of chronic disease mismanagement.

Moreover, the effectiveness of mHealth goes beyond the clear value propositions for patients and physicians, offering the potential to positively impact overall costs. Consider that 75 percent of all healthcare dollars are spent on patients with one or more chronic conditions, many of which can be prevented including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, and cancer (CDC).

Additionally, remote patient-monitoring devices have one of the fastest-growing revenue rates and are predicted to save the world’s healthcare systems up to $36 billion by 2018 (Juniper, 2013). The convergence of these two trends suggests healthcare providers and health agencies will continue to look to technological innovation as an important lever in the battle to reign in the adverse quality of life and financial impact of chronic conditions.

So What Can We Expect in Year to Come?

As the FDA does not plan to enforce compliance to applicable MDDS guidelines, we can soon expect various iterations of mHealth technologies to flood the space, promoting innovation while increasing accessibility.

It will begin with medical-monitoring devices that are increasingly targeted to manage a specific health issue, and continuously improved to provide better interfaces, intuitive visualization and personalized settings. Ultimately, the ease of use will make knowing about one’s health as simple as looking up the weather. Also, the mountains of data created by these devices will be aggregated over time, offering the potential of developing new, more-informed best practices for chronic conditions that can benefit all patients.

But remember that in the flood of new smart health devices, it will pay to know the difference between those that are cleared by the FDA and those that are not. Applications like HealthKit are great tools for collecting everyday data like sleep cycles and steps taken, but they’re not ready to have a real impact on physician and patient interaction, or overall health. The data needs to be actionable and touch on the key biometrics of a patient (e.g. blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.).

Regardless, it’s an energizing time in healthcare with wearables becoming more popular and smart devices making their way into every household. Health will no longer be a passive experience for patients, and better access to patient data will finally be attainable for physicians. Another plus, this technology could mean less medical emergencies, a proposition that all parties are likely to welcome.

Connie is a Certified Diabetes Educator for TelCare, Inc with more than 15 years of clinical and sales experience in the Diabetes Commercial Field.

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