Friday, 27 February 2015

Smartphones Enable Patients To Manage Early Diabetes for Under $100 Per Year

The IoT and the Changing Healthcare Environment

The world is filling up with internet-enabled sensors of all kinds, generating a huge amount of storable data about everything, including our health. This Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare represents an array of wearables, phones, and specialty medical devices that are already producing, analyzing, and sharing medical grade data. 

In fact, the smartphone, with its numerous embedded sensors, plugin capabilities, and app development ecosystem, is very likely now the highest-utilized medical device in the world. Going far beyond basic physiology monitoring functions like step counting, certain device extensions are functioning as 'labs on a chip,' using biochemistry and microfluidics to do the same diagnostic work previously confined to large, expensive, time-intensive, and centralized laboratory testing facilities. All of the new data being generated is not only useful to individuals and their doctors, but can be aggregated to provide population-level insights about health. For example, Walgreens is now displaying patient-reported information on medication side effects from PatientsLikeMe on their pharmacy website. PatientsLikeMe is heavily involved in the new Health Data Exploration project, an effort to better define the parameters and methods of collecting and managing both passive and active personal health data. Much of this data will come directly from smartphones. 

The IoT has been slower to disrupt medicine than many other industries. On a macro level, healthcare is a sensitive area, requiring carefully coordinated regulatory, security, and safety measures. On a micro level, many specific policies and delivery models are outdated, and will eventually need to modify to take the new and emerging models of care into account. This is already happening; for example, the FDA has eased approval requirements for low-risk mobile medical apps. 

The emerging IoT, the lower time and cost barriers for regulatory approval, and the increasing demand for low-cost treatment methods is throwing fuel onto the fire of smartphone-enabled medtech growth. 

New Opportunities to Improve Chronic Care: The Case of Type II Diabetes

The case of diabetes is illustrative: In the U.S., about 50 million people have diabetes; in India, the number jumps to at least 65 million, a number growing quickly due to changes in diet, and because many Indians are at least 30% more genetically predisposed to developing diabetes than whites. Type II diabetes accounts for about 90% of total cases. 

In response, entrepreneurs in India have developed a range of intriguing, low-cost, user-friendly products bringing basic but effective diagnostic, monitoring, and management capabilities to people with diabetes. 

First, there are the multiple parameter testing devices, exemplified by our earlier-featured Swasthya Slate, which can conduct about 30 biochemical tests on body fluids, or the more focused BPL Lifephone Plus, which measures just ECG, blood glucose, heart rate, calories burnt, and steps taken. The former, largely developed for clinical screening use, may retail around $1,000, whereas the Lifephone retails for around $200, in-line with the comparable and Scanadu devices shortly hitting the U.S. market for $150 and $200, respectively. India-based Biosense's uCheck Universal kit runs over 10 urine-based tests in addition to blood glucose, and retails for about $80.

Low-cost Glucometers
While the same range of diabetes-specific devices is available in India, the high-end continuous glucose monitoring systems are not yet affordable for most people. On the low-end, J&J has developed the OneTouch glucometer for India, selling the device and a supply of strips anywhere from $10-$25. But standalone glucometers have become somewhat commoditized, with many local entrants undercutting branding efforts. This photo from the historical Cash Pharmacy in Bangalore shows a local Dr. Morepen's GlucoOne for $17 obviously outshining a duller ad for Bayer's Contour TS glucometer. These devices are sold as part of a BoP strategy favoring scale over unit margins, and they are often just a part of companies' product portfolios.

Other indigenous companies are taking a more integrated approach to diabetes care in India. One startup called Jana Care, operating in Bangalore with roots from Harvard & MIT, has developed a small device that plugs into smartphones to run a full 'diabetes panel' of tests: HbA1c, blood glucose, lipids, creatinine, and haemoglobin. They are in process of receiving international regulatory approval for all tests, positioning them as the only company offering smartphone-based HbA1c tests, and one of the only companies offering the full 'diabetes panel' at point of care using the same low-cost form factor. They've also closed the loop on the training side with their Habits Program app, a 3-month curriculum based on the Diabetes Prevention Program that includes weekly phone calls from a trained health worker to discuss personal progress. The cost to the patient varies by provider, but is only marginally higher than a standalone glucometer, and is affordable to most patients in India. 

Could Jana Care successfully commercialize in the U.S.? Low cost is not their only comparative advantage. Another is that their products have already been developed to target a large number of 'non-digital natives,' so that the training materials, notification processes, and general usability of the products is very friendly for users of all ages and backgrounds. This may be a marked advantage in serving people with Type II diabetes in the U.S., whose ranks skew heavily towards the middle-aged and elderly for whom complicated digital solutions will likely not be attractive. 

Question for Discussion:

Would the Jana Care package provide real value to people with diabetes, and to their care providers, in the U.S.?


  1. In India, who pays for the program?

    1. A number of people. Patients can purchase directly, but it is usually sold through provider channels. So patients purchase the device / program out of pocket from the hospitals or clinics where their doctor has prescribed them. Certain providers also purchase a bundle of Jana Care devices for screening purposes.

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  3. Its true internet enabled sensors are becoming very useful in the health care industry. Introduction of different medical software to advance medical device is its great example. While talking about diabetes, its important to be aware about the symptoms described here and then use these devices to have close eyes on glucose level.

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