Amazing advances in treating Type 2 diabetes are a great way to show how technologies are converging to impact a disease—in this case, the fastest-growing condition in America. About 29 million Americans live with this disease. And for every person who knows he or she has diabetes, there’s another who’s on the verge of it, or already has it and doesn’t know yet.
Monitoring your blood sugar using a glucometer and test strips is crucial for managing Type 2 diabetes. Today, people with diabetes need to prick their fingers several times a day to get blood sugar readings. The finger stick is painful, inconvenient, and expensive – The test strips cost about a dollar apiece. Some people with diabetes should be tested four times a day, but health insurers often will pay only for two tests a day. That leaves the patient the choice of not testing enough or paying for test strips out-of-pocket. The finger stick approach is a big reason why a lot of people with this disease have trouble being compliant with their lifestyle changes and medication.
Technology is changing this. Wearable, needle-free blood sugar monitoring is becoming a reality through contact lenses and other innovative ideas, such as temporary tattoos with sensors and low-power lasers that detect blood sugar levels through the skin. Patients will be able use their smartphones to track their readings and get advice about their diet and exercise. The information will be stored in the cloud, where users and their healthcare team can download it at any time.
When the wearable blood sugar monitor becomes available, it will be amazing for people with diabetes. They will become much more willing and able to manage their disease, which in turn will help avoid the devastating and very expensive complications of diabetes, such as amputation and blindness.
These wearable meters will also calculate insulin doses and warn people about potential low blood-sugar episodes in time to prevent the episodes. The cost impact will be huge. Insulin problems are a major cause of drug-related emergency room visits, and simply cutting back on these would save a lot of money. Diabetes-related complications cost billions every year.
An imminent nanotech solution for people with diabetes who need to inject insulin is a smart patch lined with painless microneedles full of insulin. The needles are the size of an eyelash, so fine that you don’t feel injections. When this becomes available, life for many people with diabetes will become much more comfortable.
Technologies will very soon be able to facilitate monitoring and treatment for diabetes patients, making the illness easier, more efficient and more affordable to manage.
This excerpt was originally published in The Patient as CEO.