Diabetes is fast becoming a global epidemic, and there are an estimated 1.7 million Australians living with the condition. Like any chronic illness, diabetic patients require constant monitoring of blood sugar levels and daily insulin injections as part of a strict treatment regime.
But, as we’re about to discover, this is all about to change with the rise of the telehealth industry; a space in which health-related services and information are delivered via telecommunications technologies.
One manufacturer leading the way in telehealth technology is Sanofi Diabetes, having released the iBGStar – the world’s first iOS-compatible blood glucose meter – to the consumer market late last year.
Macworld Australia spoke to Sanofi Business Unit Manager Simon Scott and University of Melbourne telehealth expert and research fellow Professor Sof Andrikopoulos to find out how the new device is helping patients self- manage diabetes through innovation and connectivity.
MW: How did the concept of the iBGStar first come about?
Simon Scott: Following extensive global market research, Sanofi launched the ‘You said…We Listened’ campaign and the associated statement “You wanted to be more confident and independent living with diabetes”.
We listened to what people with diabetes and their healthcare professionals said they wanted in a blood glucose meter and designed a portfolio with their feedback in mind.
We wanted to come up with a discreet and compact device that delivers 21st century diabetes technology for the way people with diabetes live today. The high probability of patients always having their smartphones with them led to the conclusion that a blood glucose- monitoring device that connects to a smartphone will increase portability and, ultimately, the frequency of testing.
MW: What were the reasons behind developing the technology exclusively for Apple devices?
SS: Apple’s iPhone and iOS software are at the forefront of smartphone innovation. The intuitive and easy-to-use nature of the Apple platform made it a perfect partner for an integrated blood glucose monitoring solution.
iOS software doesn’t require any explanation or tutorials, thus, the decision was made to develop a portable blood glucose monitor that would connect not only to the iPhone but also to the iPod touch, given the same interface experience used in both devices.
Sof Andrikopoulos: The iPhone holds a substantial percentage of the smartphone market; it makes sense to use the platform that so many hold in their hands.
MW: The iBGStar is the first iOS-compatible meter of its kind to enter the consumer market; what kind of growth do you foresee in the greater context of the telehealth industry and associated mobile technologies?
SA: There is no doubt that telehealth technology is already here and is being embraced by consumers. We live in a time where smartphones and information are at our fingertips, assisting in all our daily activities, so it is logical that healthcare will also be accessible using devices such as the iBGStar that utilises smart technology.
SS: Sanofi is investigating many innovations as part of its total offering for patients. Our purpose is to empower people to maximise life’s potential, and telehealth is something we are investigating to achieve this.
Of course, the success of telehealth lies with companies across many sectors working together as opposed to each trying to create the wheel and, in so doing, lose sight of better patient outcomes and improved patient management for healthcare professionals.
MW: Does Sanofi plan to develop additional products in the same strain as the iBGStar?
SS: The e-health space is expanding rapidly and Sanofi Diabetes is constantly reviewing options for improving the outcomes of people living with diabetes in everything from software applications to new devices, therapeutic products, services and partnerships.
The big opportunity lies in companies with varying expertise coming together and collaborating on improving patient outcomes. This could be as vast as a healthcare organisation, telcos, device manufacturers, health organisations and industry professionals uniting to optimise patient management and ultimately take the burden out of living with diabetes.
MW: Is it far-fetched to think that future technology could, for example, enable diabetics to use mobile devices, like the iPhone, to dose and administer insulin from an app to an implanted device in the body?
SA: No, this is not far-fetched at all. In fact there are insulin pumps that are coming on the market that can be controlled using wireless Bluetooth technology to deliver insulin at a specific dose or time. It is thus quite achievable for the pump to be controlled by any device that has wireless capability like the iPhone.
One can imagine that a parent can deliver the precise amount of insulin to their child using a device that has wireless capability to the implanted insulin pump, ensuring optimal blood glucose control. This is very exciting and a huge step in the treatment of diabetes as we wait for a cure or better still, prevention of the disease.
MW: How do young patients find using the iBGStar – is it ‘kid-friendly’?
SA: Diabetes affects all ages (including children and adolescents) so having a platform that is straightforward and easy to use will appeal to everyone.
SS: We know that Apple products, like the iPhone and iPod touch, are very popular among kids and teenagers just because they are intuitive, easy and fun to use.
Furthermore, the iBGStar was developed to be discreet and compact and help to take away some of the anxiety that younger patients with diabetes experience when ‘showing’ their condition in public.
The iBGStar has helped take the stigma out of living with diabetes, especially at school. It’s now ‘cool’ to monitor your blood glucose with a simple test that was once cause for embarrassment.
MW: What about patients within an older demographic – how have they responded to the technology?
SS: Already we’re seeing the ‘older audience’ embracing the ability to email their logbook directly to their healthcare professional for review prior to their appointment. In rural areas, especially, this level of functionality opens up a whole new world of possibilities, minimising the need to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres to see your doctor. This is a great advantage for those who may be unable to travel easily because of their age.
MW: What are the benefits for diabetics using the iBGStar?
SS: The innovative ability of the iBGStar meter to work with the iBGStar Diabetes Manager Application makes it different compared to any other meter in the market because of the easy-to-use graphic display of the readings and the ability to track carbs and insulin by reading and time-of-day.
The app’s features provide an expanded and truly exciting capability allowing the user to view and analyse blood glucose levels in ‘real time’.
MW: Moving forward, what type of products will Sanofi look at developing, in terms of integrated mobile technologies?
SS: Sanofi Diabetes is continuing to assess all opportunities for the improved management of people living with diabetes. We will continue to investigate opportunities in everything from devices and therapies through to software applications and telecommunications technologies.
To see Macworld Australia’s full review of the iBGStar Blood Glucose Meter Kit click here.