The Return of the GlucoWatch

The Return of the GlucoWatch

Now that annual Consumer Electronic Show is over and Diabetic Investor leaves Sin City and heads to that beautiful city by the bay for the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, a few observations on the role technology can and cannot play when it comes to the future of diabetes management. Going into CES our main concern wasn’t that we wouldn’t see some truly cool and whiz bang technology, we did. No our main concern was would any of this way cool, whiz bang technology actually be used by patients with diabetes and would this way cool whiz bang technology actually help the patient achieve better outcomes.

With CES now over the real question isn’t whether the technology is way cool; it is, nor is the question will patients use this technology as more than likely they will; no the real question is have the companies that are developing all this way cool, whiz bang technology lost their minds. Or put another have they bothered to take the time ti understand what’s going on in the real world or are they so enamored with their technology they cannot see the forest through the trees.

The glucose monitoring technology at the show is the perfect example of this. Diabetic Investor did some way cool technology, an all in one device from YofiMeter™ was particularly interesting as it takes what Intuity Medical is doing with their Pogo® system while adding the connectivity of the TelCare system. The issue isn’t the technology as it is way cool and we can see why patients would use such a device, the problem lies in how much it cost to make these devices and what they need to be sold for so that the companies who make all this way cool technology will actually be able to stay in business. Yes we realize that to some of these techy companies the concept of actually making money is about as foreign to them as a patient who heaven forbid uses an Android device and not a way cool iPhone.

Yet as we have noted on several occasions all this way cool technology doesn’t mean all that much if it never makes it into the hands of the patient. The simple fact is the glucose monitoring market is a now a full blown commodity market where price trumps coolness and there is no way that patients will pay $200 or $100 for a glucose meter and we don’t care how cool it is or what It can do. There is no way payors will reimburse for all these way cool techy system when the major companies continue to give away their system for free.

It seems as if these techy companies live in some sort of fantasy land as they actually believe patients will pay these crazy prices for these way cool systems. Now yes there is a very small, more like miniscule portion of the patient population who will pay these crazy prices. These are likely the same people who camp out all night in front of an Apple store just so they can be the first to have the latest greatest iPhone, which won’t be the latest greatest as in 6 months another new iPhone comes out. Yet for the vast majority of patients who really could care less which meter they use, there is no way in hell they would pay these crazy prices.

Now Diabetic Investor does admire just how passionate these techy companies are and honestly for as much fun as we have at their expense we do think the technology can help patients. Yet after more than 20 years covering this industry we also know the diabetes device business is about money, who spends it and who makes it. Given that many of these techy companies are run by young executives who haven’t shaved yet, allow Diabetic Investor to share some diabetes device history so that they can learn from the past. As it has been said many times, know your history as more than likely it repeat itself in the future.

Years ago a now defunct company, Cygnus came out with what was at the time the coolest diabetes device ever; the GlucoWatch. As the name indicates the patient would wear the GlucoWatch which would deliver glucose readings, wait for it….on a continuous basis. The GlucoWatch had all the sexy elements that the so-called experts at the time said every patient wanted. No more painful finger sticks, no more point to point readings but continuous readings so patients could understand glucose trends. To many the GlucoWatch was a sure fire hit that would revolutionize glucose monitoring and thrust Cygnus into the arms of one of the major glucose players who would surly pay millions, perhaps billions to own this whiz bang technology.

There just one problem the damn thing really didn’t work all that well and the few patients who were willing to shell out big bucks for this so-called great technology  were very vocal in their disappointment. Missed readings, inaccurate readings and skin irritation were just a few of the many issues with the product. Still this didn’t seem to bother anyone as … wait for it .. all these problems will be solved when the new and improved GlucoWatch II comes out.

Needless to state the obvious but here we are nearly 20 years later and the GlucoWatch like so many way cool, whiz bang, high tech diabetes devices crashed and burned. Now Diabetic Investor is in no way implying or stating these new techy companies will crash and burn, although the likelihood is more than one will. No what we are merely pointing out is that technology no matter how cool it is must not only work but be priced competitively so it gets into the hands of patients. Something that isn’t easy in a commodity market that also has to deal with the continuing fallout from competitive bidding.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all for these new techy companies is their lack of business vision. While they can think way out of the box when it comes to product design, this out of the box thinking stops when it comes how to sell and market these way cool systems. Frankly if these techy companies stand any chance at all they should blow up the system as it stands today and do something completely different. They run, as fast as the can, away from conventional wisdom and turn the whole market upside down. Yet for reasons Diabetic Investor cannot understand these passionate techy companies are mired in the mud and cannot break from the past when it comes to sales and marketing.

The bottom line here is either these new techy companies become innovative with their sales and marketing as they are with their product design or they will be doomed to the same fate as Cygnus and their way cool GlucoWatch.  Unfortunately for many of these new techy companies the more things change, the more they stay the same. Really a pity as the technology is way cool and likely would be used by the patient if it was priced competitively. Such a shame.