According to the American Diabetes Association, the total cost of diabetes management amounted to over $245 billion in the United States alone (as est. in 2012). So it's a no-brainer why Google is putting so many efforts into building innovative eHealth solutions and products for seamless disease management and continuous glucose monitoring, or a highly lucrative Health IT opportunity.
Millions of people with diabetes have to prick their fingers several times a day to monitor their blood glucose levels, which is painful and expensive (lancets, test strips and glucose meters are not cheap at all!). But now Google is hoping to take guesswork and pain out of the process by launching new initiatives for diabetics under its Life Sciences division. As per the announcement made by Google Life Sciences earlier this week, "diabetes is the company's first major disease target".
Today, there's already an explosion of wearables and data analytics tools that facilitate everyday life of people with diabetes. Because such patients live more comfortable in a measured and structured world, Google will continue building products that will make diabetes experiences more seamless and less painful. One of its very first and most innovative developments focusing on people with diabetes is a smart contact lens embedded with a glitter-sized sensor to measure glucose levels in tears.
Earlier this week, Google Life Sciences announced partnerships with Novartis and Dexcom on diabetes related projects. For instance, Novartis is going to license Google's smart lens technology for all ocular medical uses.
"Diabetes management is fundamentally an "information problem,"" Jacquelyn Miller, a Google Life Sciences spokeswoman.
The methods that most of people with diabetes are still using today aren't much different from those people used 10 or 15 years ago. Before meals and exercises, they inject themselves with an insulin-filled syringe and the dose is based on the data from the glucose meter and depends on many factors such as diet, sleep, stress, etc. The process requires attention to detail and a little intuition. As a friend of mine with Type 1 diabetes puts it, "Diabetes is quantitative and its management is all about understanding of numbers and their manipulation over time."
However, some advanced diabetics are using innovative methods such as a tiny needle-based sensor embedded under their skin that connects to an insulin pump and a transmitter. But available options have yet to improve and make their way into daily routine of people with diabetes. Some of the biggest flaws detected in existing smart tech solutions include, but aren't limited to: cumbersome equipment, necessity to change sensor every two or three days, questionable data accuracy, etc.
Many Health IT companies have been working for years to upgrade and improve such smart meter solutions for diabetes management. "But Google has a history of taking on very ambitious projects," said Cameron Sepah, medical director at Omada Health. As such, we should anticipate more new cool products from Google that will be capable of providing the right insights to help diabetics properly adjust their insulin levels and avoid serious risks caused by diabetes such as heart diseases, hypoglycemia or stroke.
However, due to many factors including the lack of unified medical standards and regulatory environment, high cost of development and other technical challenges, we won't be able to see any of such revolutionary products any time soon. Or will we?
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