By Drew Schiller, CEO, Validic
In December, Apple shipped an update that turned on the EKG sensor in its Series 4 Apple Watch (with De Novo FDA clearance for the accompanying EKG app). In January at CES, Omron announced shipment of its HeartGuide wearable blood pressure monitor. In February, Samsung announced its Galaxy Active wearable, which also measures blood pressure, this time using optical sensors (whereas Omron’s technology uses an inflatable bladder similar to the blood pressure cuffs traditionally used in healthcare).
The last year also saw the release of the Spire Health Tag, a durable, washable wearable that turns your undergarments into continuous activity, stress, and respiration monitors; Dexcom’s G6 and Abbott’s Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitoring devices; and Medtronic released the first FDA-listed, commercially available closed-loop insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system.
This is exciting for me as a consumer technology and healthcare geek – and it’s even more exciting to me as a healthcare consumer and sometimes patient. These devices, and hundreds more like them, are making available real health data and presenting these data in ways that highlights how our lifestyles and activities impact our health.
A recent commentary on CNBC by Dr. Aaron Neinstein at UCSF on the power of glucose monitoring discussed how data from consumer devices are a powerful feedback tool. In fact, Dr. Neinstein argues that in the near future, many of us will track our blood glucose at least periodically, even if we are not at risk of diabetes. He uses himself as an example of a healthy 37-year-old who learned through tracking his glucose that a favorite soup in his workplace cafeteria caused concerning blood sugar spikes.
Dr. Neinstein also highlights the story of a 70-year-old with type two diabetes and heart disease who regularly takes his metformin, but has resisted making any changes to his diet. As the Dr. Neinsteins writes regarding his patient, “When he saw his own data from a glucose monitor, with no explanation even needed from me, he immediately identified the daily morning spike in his blood glucose level, and also its source: His daily glass of orange juice and banana.” This individual then cut these items from his diet and reported an immediate improvement in his blood sugar levels.
Through consumer health innovations, we have better access to health data that are appropriately contextualized for our health conditions than ever before, and it’s leading toward a consumer-driven, self-service healthcare ecosystem. An example of a company leading the way on this self-service model is One Drop, a glucose management company founded by Jeff Dachis, a successful technology entrepreneur who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 47.
When he was first diagnosed, Jeff was appalled by the ugliness of extant glucose monitors and crude companion apps. He also recognized that diabetes is a condition he lives with every minute of every day of his life, whereas his endocrinologist only sees Jeff at most once per quarter and uses a1c lab values as a proxy for his well being. One Drop now boasts stylish glucose monitoring hardware and accessories, a beautiful diabetes management application, and advanced data science to deliver automated diabetes care through mobile devices.
The net result is, healthcare is rapidly heading toward a future where people who are unsatisfied with the traditional healthcare system can find the data and insights they are looking for through consumer health technologies. Those who have received a diagnosis of hypertension can use smart watches to check their blood pressure dozens of times per day to learn what situations and habits cause spikes. Individuals using sensors to track sleep can be alerted of potential sleep apnea or other factors that are leading to dysregulated sleep. And people with diabetes, or those who would simply like to know more about how their body is metabolizing certain foods, can use glucose monitors with companion apps to gain insights into their health.
Wearables and consumer health technologies are no longer simply for the worried well. In fact, all of the devices mentioned in this article have been approved for health monitoring through the FDA. These tools are measuring meaningful health data and providing real-time feedback to us consumers — something that is sorely lacking in healthcare. This is all leading to a not-too-distant future where a diagnosis may still come from a healthcare provider, but the care delivery will come through an app.