A 13-day, 30-rider cycling tour from Brussels to Barcelona undertaken this fall is being hailed as an mHealth breakthrough.
Why? Because 20 riders were Type 1 diabetics, and their health was monitored in real-time by an impressive array of mHealth devices and solutions from a wide variety of companies – all working together to create one complete solution.
The event was a "grand experiment of being able to monitor people that long throughout the entire day – we've never done that before," said Clint McClellan, board president and chairman of the Continua Health Alliance, which contributed the standards upon which all the technology operated.
McClellan was part of a Tuesday afternoon panel presentation at the mHealth Summit that discussed the project and its potential impact to a healthcare community still ruled by devices, portals and other solutions that can't interact with one another.
Coordinated by the GSMA, an organization spanning some 220 countries and representing mobile operators around the world, the GSMA mHealth Grand Tour featured three distinct groups – 10 accomplished cyclists who were diabetic, 10 amateur cyclists who were diabetic, and a control group of 10 expert cyclists who did not have the chronic condition.
All of the riders were equipped with a Dexcom G5 continuous glucose monitor that was injected just beneath the skin of the abdomen. The monitor integrated with bike-mounted computers, transmitting data over the ANT+ protocol to Sony Mobile handsets, which the riders used to self-monitor their health each day. The data was also transmitted wirelessly through an HMM module, part of an Orange solution, to a cloud-based portal. Researchers and medical providers viewed that information daily through a McCann Health portal, also using a geolocation portal provided by Orange to track the riders' progress.
"It really was all about showcasing an end-to-end solution," said Craig Friderichs, Director of Health for the GSMA and one of the non-diabetic riders, who noted that very little data exists on how extensive exercise affects those with Type 1 diabetes. "We wanted to demonstrate a clinical trial for those with Type 1 diabetes."
Mike Trenell, a professor of metabolism and director of the MoveLab at Newcastle University in the UK, used the data to study the effects of exercise on the diabetic riders. In a video link from the UK, he explained that diabetics face the risk of lasting health issues, coma and even death if their blood sugar levels are not properly balanced during exercise. While diabetics have to test their blood sugar several times each day and administer insulin if those levels are too high or consume carbohydrates if the numbers are too low, the Dexcom monitors used by the cyclists enabled them – and those monitoring them – to instantly know when those numbers fluctuated.
Esteve Vallve, an eHealth product manager with Orange who rode with the control group and analyzed the riders' data every day, said some of the diabetic riders were so impressed by the system, they wanted to buy it, and were willing to pay a lot for it (the system was not for sale).
"I'm not just talking about technology. I'm talking about usability," he said. "This is real life. It's having multiple systems, multiple technologies" working seamlessly.
The next step, he said, would be scalability. "How do we (go from) 30 riders to a massive deployment?"
"The mobile operators are going to have a huge role in this," said McClellan, who expressed an interest in joining next year's ride. "I think it's going to be profound in the next few years" as smartphones and mHealth apps become more capable of pulling and sorting data and integrating with each other.
"And healthcare providers are going to realize, 'This is how we improve health,'" he added.
McClellan, who is also the senior director of business development for Qualcomm Life, called for a full report on how all of the different mHealth parties created the framework for the system, so that others could use this as a model for multi-channel, interoperable programs.
Mike Paradis, global sales manager for ANT+, said the ride represents the first step in the transition from interoperability to interchangeability. "We have to get the silos of the world turned into open fields," he said.