Managing diabetes: An overview of available digital tools

These three tools that find the middle ground between breakthrough technology and user-friendly interfaces.
By Cara Dartnell-Steinberg
09:02 am
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Gone are the days of endless finger pricks to test blood glucose levels and complicated mental calculations to deduce carbohydrate ratios with insulin. The growth of people with diabetes by 314 million in the last 34 years has created an ever-expanding market in diabetes management products.

Consumers are now inundated with new technology streamlining lives with less needles and more real-time data to ensure immediate and precise responses to blood sugar levels.

With all the different options, here are three popular tools that find the middle ground between breakthrough technology and user-friendly interfaces.

Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre

Available in Europe for several years, this system can now be obtained through prescription in the UK and in major pharmacies in the US. It consists of a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) unit with an insertable sensor and a small patch that is scanned using a reader or a smartphone app. The device can scan through several layers of clothing, allowing for discretion and flexibility.

The Libre takes glucose data every fifteen minutes and stores data for up to eight hours, replacing fingerprick meters with real-time glucose levels. It also features an easily accessible 24-hour graph as well as arrows predicting glucose trends. It is easily inserted in an injection that most people (myself included) find minimally painful and lasts for up to 14 days.

The Libre requires no fingerprick calibrations and gives precise enough data to dose insulin from it. The newest generation includes Bluetooth technology that alerts the user to extreme highs or lows, assisting people struggling with night-time hypoglycaemia unawareness. In a study with 363 European Type 2 diabetes patients, HbA1c results dropped by 1% due to use of the device, a significant decrease in the context of the small numbers being dealt with.

As Dr Helene Hanaire, one of the lead authors of the study, states, "By using the real-time results, trends and patterns from the technology right at their fingertips, people with diabetes are becoming more actively engaged in making better decisions to control their glucose levels and improve their own health.”

Sugar.IQ

Sugar.IQ is a diabetes assistant app, much like Google’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa which has been developed in collaboration with IBM Watson Health and has more than 3,100 users. By constantly tracking the user’s information and compiling it in one place, the intelligent assistant is able to provide insights into how to most effectively keep glucose levels in the desired range. The app includes useful features such as a smart food logging system, motivational insights, a glycaemic assistant and a data tracker.

It is most effective when used in tandem with the Guardian Connect CGM. The company stated that patients who used both stayed within their glycaemic range 4.1% more often than those using just the Guardian Connect CGM without the Sugar.IQ app.

A study found that Sugar.IQ users spent 36 more minutes a day in range than before using the app and that episodes of low glucose levels decreased by .95 a month and high glucose by 1.22.

As Michael Hill, VP and general manager of the Multiple Daily Injection Solutions business within the Diabetes Group at Medtronic, said in a statement, ‘these results suggest the Sugar.IQ diabetes assistant, together with our Guardian Connect system, may help patients better understand glucose trends and increase their time in range, aiding in behaviour change which may ultimately help improve clinical outcomes.’

Bluetooth-enabled smart insulin pen

The Smart Insulin Pen (one brand being InPen) is a step closer to achieving an integrated diabetes system making doses more accurate and safer. It consists of a reusable insulin pen that captures injection data (such as the amount and the time) and sends it via Bluetooth to a secure mobile app.

On the app, users can view their active insulin, last dose, blood glucose levels and if the insulin has expired or exceeded the recommended temperature range. Helpfully, the app includes a bolus calculator that takes into account previous doses to prevent incorrect calculations and bolus stacking, as well as sending reminders on when to take a dose. This app is free on Apple IOS and Android in the US but is not yet available in the UK.

"It is our aim at Abbott to continuously provide life-changing technology to people living with diabetes," Jared Watkin, SVP of diabetes care at Abbott, said in a statement. "Diabetes is a time-intensive condition to manage. People with diabetes must make a variety of decisions every single day about their glucose monitoring, nutrition, insulin and medication intake. By enabling insulin dosing data from Novo Nordisk′s connected pens to be shared with our digital health tools, we′ll be able to help further eliminate those daily hassles for people, so they have more time to live a fuller, healthier life."