In recent months the two largest glucose meter companies quietly released products that signal a tectonic shift in diabetes care. They didn’t grab many headlines like insulin-secreting stem cells or an artificial pancreas, but their impact will be profound nonetheless.
In August, Roche introduced the Accu-Chek Aviva Connect, their first wireless syncing glucometer and cloud platform for iPhone and Android. And in November, LifeScan released an app update to their Verio Sync wireless glucose meter for iPhone that enabled Apple HealthKit integration. As a diabetes doctor and tech blogger, I’ve been waiting for years for this.
Wait… Haven’t Advanced Glucose Meters Been Around?
Smartphone-compatible glucose meters aren’t new. In fact, the first glucose meter for iPhone (Agamatrix’s iBG Star) was released way back in 2011, pre-dating even the iPhone’s switch to the lightning cable. Since then, startups like iHealth, TelCare, and Livongo have released wireless glucose meters of their own. However, very few users seek out such advanced glucose meters, instead using whatever meter their doctor handed them (usually from Accu-Chek or Lifescan). Buying monthly proprietary test strips is cheaper when purchasing a well-known brand due to pricing arrangements between vendors, insurance plans, and pharmacies. In fact, in my practice, I’ve never had a single patient bring me an advanced glucose meter.
With the new releases from Roche and Lifescan, that all changes. In 2008, the two companies owned 58% of the global diabetes monitoring market, and the top 4 brands (adding Bayer and Abbott) owned 90% of that market.
The Accu-chek Aviva Connect and Verio Sync utilize the same test strips as other (non-wireless) Aviva and Verio models, ensuring instantaneous, widespread insurance coverage. For illustration, Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and clinics around the country have been exclusively using Accu-chek Aviva meters and test strips for years. For a one-time fee of $30 (or free handout from their provider), any veteran can obtain the Accu-Chek Aviva Connect meter and wirelessly synchronize every future reading to their phone and the Cloud without even changing their prescription for testing supplies. Like it or not, market share speaks volumes.
Sugars in the Cloud, for Free
The Accu-Chek Aviva Connect doesn’t stop at syncing sugars to your phone. It also includes a free portal that allows users to upload their blood sugars from their smartphone to the Cloud. And if they so desire, the user can share their readings in real time with their providers or caregivers. For providers, there is a separate portal that allows clinicians to review the blood sugars of their panel of patients. (Side note: the signup process includes legal language releasing the provider from medical liability for the sugars.)
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going back and forth with a patient who has been struggling with rising blood sugars. Since she has a standard meter, she has to type out her blood sugars in an email to me every one to three days. With the Accu-Chek Connect Portal, she could simply point me toward her shared readings, and I’d have instant access to extremely detailed information (eg exact time, graphs, stats and any other user-provided data she enters into her app like insulin dose or even photos of her food).
With features like these, the Accu-Chek Portal offers a free and fairly robust population health service for providers. When compared to current methods like phone calls, texts, emails, there’s a lot to be excited about.
HealthKit: A Boon to Diabetes Apps
With its latest software update enabling Apple HealthKit compatibility, the Verio Sync addresses many of its prior shortcomings. Now, sugar measurements performed with the Verio Sync can be automatically exported to HealthKit, which can then transmit the information to any other HealthKit-enabled iPhone app.
This process eliminates the need for manual sugar entry, which is far and away the single biggest barrier to widespread diabetes app adoption. My patients repeatedly complain that they stop using diabetes apps because of the hassle of typing in every reading. People with diabetes are looking for solutions that help make managing their diabetes easier, not more complicated.
HealthKit compatibility also allows for higher quality apps. Prior to HealthKit, meter vendors had to build their own apps to allow users to take advantage of their meters, and the results haven’t been pretty. Now, users can have the best of both worlds by combining the hardware of an advanced meter with the beautiful, user-friendly UX of a top diabetes app.
Bottom Line: Wireless Glucose Sharing Will Become the Norm
In my clinical practice, I haven’t thrown out my glucose meter syncing cables just yet. For the bulk of my patients, I’m still manually downloading glucose logs and most of my patients are manually typing out their blood sugars to me in emails and texts. People are creatures of habit, and doctors are no different.
However, what gets me so excited is that meters like the Accu-chek Aviva Connect and Verio Sync will go home with more and more patients every month. As a doctor, there’s no reason for me to give my patient any other meter (unless their insurance prefers a different brand). They don’t cost my patients any more money because they use the same test strips. They operate no differently than your standard meter. And sure, I admit that for most patients, the wireless features might go unused for months or even years.
But every patient and doctor will eventually have that Eureka moment. A person with diabetes might install an app that shows them how to configure their meter to automatically sync their sugars to their phone. Or a doctor might inquire about a beautiful, self-generated report sent from their patient without the tangle of proprietary cables. And once they realize the power of their seemingly “standard meter”, they will in turn educate their colleagues and future patients.
Before you know it, wirelessly sharing glucose data will be the norm and not the exception. And one day, several years from now, people will look back and think, “remember when we had to actually bring our meters to every doctors visit?”
I can’t wait.