Fighting diabetes with technology

Strides have been made to ensure technology keeps pace with assisting people in self-managing their diabetes. By incorporating a personalized approach, technology has become a useful tool; in particular, mobile and Internet-ready smartphones have been found to be the most effective for integrating diabetes care into day-to-day living.

Technology now has evolved beyond telehealth. Smart technology exists as wearables, implants, and mobile applications to track glucose levels, share data, access relevant information, communicate with both healthcare providers and others with diabetes, and, ultimately, guide you in making better decisions.

Wearable technology

Wearable technology comprises gadgets that can be worn and are equipped with sensors and wireless connectivity to assist with monitoring blood sugar levels, personalizing treatment, connecting with healthcare providers, and even delivering medication into the body. It’s a huge departure from the traditional finger pricking method of glucose monitoring.

Skin Patches

These are small patches enclosing sensors that measure blood glucose in sweat and automatically release a dose of insulin to correct high blood glucose. The patch can be attached to your skin so that in the event of low blood glucose levels, it will send a message alert to your smartphone reminding you to eat. Some patch systems already exist but need a wire to transmit data. Several companies are health patches a step further by sending information wirelessly.

Contact Lenses

Smart contact lenses that could monitor blood glucose levels through human tears are being explored by medical researchers. Pharmaceutical company Novartis has agreed to license and commercialize them once available. They also are looking to make lenses that could compensate for poor eyesight, which is a common complication among people with diabetes. There is yet to be confirmation of when this product could reach the market, but Google was granted the patent for a contact lens with an embedded chip to monitor glucose levels in tears.

Socks and Shoes

Developments in technology aren’t appearing only in the area of self-monitoring. Technological developments also are prevalent in preventing common diabetes complications such as diabetic neuropathy, which can result in limb amputation. Currently, scientists are prototyping socks and shoes with embedded thermal and pressure sensors that can point out specific areas of the feet that have an insufficient blood supply.

Once this footwear product reaches the market, ideally, a supporting smartphone application would alert the wearer if one area of the foot is not getting blood supply. A nurse or doctor also can use the device to routinely inspect small cuts or soft tissue damage, in which an infection can easily develop. Such technology would greatly minimize the risk of amputations.

Smart Apps

While many wearables and implanted technology still are in the development or approval phases, many smartphone applications already are available. Apps can educate, assist with decision-making, communicate with healthcare providers, and promote adherence to lifestyle and medication regimens. Some glucose meters now are smaller, lighter, and capable of giving more accurate readings. Some are so small they can be plugged into the headphone jack of a smartphone. Apps that accompany glucose meters include sensors that count the number of steps taken in a day, the number of calories consumed in a meal and the resulting glucose levels, and whether a dose of medication is recommended.