Technology – promise and peril

Technology – promise and peril

This week Diabetic Investor will head to sin city for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). No longer the domain of large screen TV’s, smartphones and tablets CES now features an ever expanding healthcare section.  This year many expect wearable technology to be the talk of the show, as companies continue to push the edge of the envelope developing technologies that monitor what’s going on with a patient’s body.  The real question isn’t whether this new technology works, the real question is can this technology actually help a patient better manage their diabetes and actually improve outcomes.

Long time readers of Diabetic Investor know that we have been overly skeptical of what technology can do.  Over the years patients with diabetes have seen some major innovations in diabetes technology – glucose meters that require a miniscule amount of blood, continuous glucose monitors and smart insulin pumps are just a few of the innovations that stand out. Recently we have seen a slew of apps targeted at patients with diabetes all of which when used by the patient have the potential to help the patient better manage their diabetes. Yet even with all this advanced, way cool technology one very distributing fact stands out – nearly two-thirds of patients are not properly controlling their diabetes.

To Diabetic Investor this has always been the litmus test for any diabetes related technology – will the patient actually use it and will the use of the technology lead to improved outcomes. Now for many in the diabetes tech world this is a foreign concept as these geeks seem to believe that just because something can be done it should be done. A perfect example of this is the never ending quest to develop an artificial pancreas. Now in theory a true artificial pancreas, one that actually works, could be a great innovation. However as so often happens the hype for this project has failed to live up to promised results and some would argue including Diabetic Investor, this over-promise under deliver reality of the project has actually done more damage than the good it was supposed to create.

Far too often diabetes technology is not designed for use in the real world rather it’s designed to be way cool. An example of this can be found with now defunct iBGStar glucose monitor from our friends at Sanofi (NYSE:SNY). Designed to work with the way cool and very popular iPhone, the iBGStar never gained traction in the market and was ultimately doomed by the iPhone itself when Apple decided to change the connection port of the newer versions of the iPhone. It was funny to listen to officials at Sanofi who believed that patients would actually purchase an adaptor so that the iBGStar would work with the new versions of the iPhone. This belief by Sanofi conclusively proves there is no cure for stupid.

What diabetes technology developers seem to forget is that the majority of patients with diabetes are living their lives with their diabetes and not for their diabetes. They seem to believe that all patients are like the minority of patients who embrace and actively use each piece of new technology that hits the market. This active, very engaged and very vocal group of patient’s is less than 10% of the overall market but garners an overwhelming amount of attention from diabetes geeks. As we have noted many times diabetes is a complex disease state which to be managed properly requires a high level of patient interaction which basically amounts to another job 24 hours a day, 7 seven days a week, 365 days a year with no time off.  Frankly it should surprise no one that just a fraction of the overall market is actively engaged with their diabetes management.

However it is this group of patients, those who understand they have diabetes, need to manage it but are overwhelmed by the demands of diabetes management who need technology the most. They need technology that fits into their lives not technology that tries to run their lives.  They don’t need another glucose meter that communicates with way cool iPhone that has an app that displays their glucose values. They need a meter that communicates with any smartphone that helps them understand what they are supposed to do based on their glucose levels. They don’t need technology which requires an advanced engineering degree from MIT to use; they need technology that’s as simple as TV remote.

To Diabetic Investor this is the biggest failure of diabetes technology; it’s overly complex and fails to actually help the patient better manage their diabetes. It’s designed by engineers who are completely clueless to the daily demands of diabetes management. Engineers who seem to believe that patients will jump through multiple hoops just because the technology they developed is way cool. Diabetic Investor isn’t against advanced diabetes technology, on the contrary as with the right technology, technology which does not overwhelm the patient, that is simple to use this advanced technology can lead to better overall outcomes.

Yet we’re pretty sure that somewhere on the CES show floor Diabetic Investor will run across a 110 inch big screen high definition TV that communicates with a glucose meter. Or that there will be multiple smartphones with meters built right into the phone, which come with way cool apps that send glucose readings to the cloud where they can viewed by the patient’s healthcare team. It’s too bad that these way cool smartphones can’t solve the problem of how the healthcare team is compensated for the data analysis or even better getting the patient to actually test their glucose levels in the first place.

To Diabetic Investor it’s fitting that CES is held in Las Vegas a city that has seen a revival thanks in large part to the slogan “What Happens In Vegas Stays in Vegas”.  Let’s just hope for the millions of patients with diabetes that the diabetes technology shown at this year’s show doesn’t stay in sin city, that it actually helps the majority of patients better manage their diabetes.  Honestly the last thing we need is more way cool technology that’s just that – way cool and nothing else.  The real jackpot isn’t in technology for technology’s sake, the real jackpot will come from technology that is actually used by the patient and helps them better manage their diabetes.