Over the past decade, continuous glucose monitors have given diabetics a way to track blood sugar without pricking a finger multiple times per day, a quiet revolution in health care that emerged in tandem with the advent of the smartphone. Now health-care companies are finding ways to merge the two technologies and display blood sugar trends on your phone, rather than on a separate meter.
Dublin-based Medtronic and San Diego-based Dexcom already have continuous glucose-monitoring apps approved for use in the United States (MiniMed Connect and G5 Mobile, both for iOS). U.K.-based Abbott has an app on the market in five European countries (Librelink for Android).
Senseonics, a Germantown-based biotech company, is working on a tiny piece of machinery, surgically implanted every three months, that will transmit data directly to your phone in real time.
As with any new technology there’s reason for wariness. Smartphone glitches or battery failures are annoying when they interrupt your game of Pokémon Go, but a botched blood sugar reading can be really dangerous. Dexcom, the U.S. market leader, had to recall more than 250,000 receiver devices last year because their alarms were failing.
And cost is an issue for some people (it depends on what your insurance will cover). Medtronic’s MiniMed Connect app requires a separate “uploader” device for $99. The price tag stopped my friend Jack Davis, a 27-year-old videographer from Minnesota who has Type 1 diabetes, in his tracks. “For me, at my age and for what I do, there’s no reason for me to have it on my phone,” said Davis, who is content to rely on Medtronic’s handheld device.
Even though glucose-monitoring apps are still a work in progress, these companies are already looking beyond: to systems that automatically inject insulin in response to trends picked up by the sensor – like an artificial pancreas. Dexcom chief technology officer Jorge Valdes says his company is working on such a system.
That idea appeals more to Davis.
“The bionic pancreas,” he said, “that’s the dream.”