“The changes over the past decade have been tremendous," says David Edelman, co-founder and president of Diabetes Daily, an online community. "Tools are easier to use, more accurate, and enable you to have better control.”
But it’s not only about having control yourself — these innovations serve a broader purpose, notes Marcia Draheim, RN, a certified diabetes educator and a past president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “They enable efficient, consistent, and effective communication between people with diabetes and their health care providers.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the newest and most popular high-tech devices, from smartphone apps to insulin pumps, all designed to make managing diabetes easier.
Smartphone Apps and Other Devices
One of the biggest areas of growth has been in smartphone apps, says Manny Hernandez, president of the Diabetes Hands Foundation. In fact, he’s found it so difficult to keep up that he recently asked members of his Web site to post their own recommendations on TuDiabetes.org, the online community his organization runs.
Most apps cost only a few bucks, but there are also good free ones to try out, like the popular Glucose Buddy, which allows users to record food, exercise, and insulin levels and obtain graphs and charts. Another free app available on iTunes is the Wavesense Diabetes Manager from AgaMatrix, a maker of glucose monitors. Also for Apple users, the app provides graphs and charts using the information you’ve put in and also provides educational videos. If you’ve got an Android smartphone, you can use another free app, OnTrack, to input your data, add personal notes, and export the information to your health care professional.
Smartphones can become medical record devices. One product that impresses Hernandez is the Glooko Logbook and MeterSync Cable, which enables you to download your blood glucose readings directly from compatible meters to your iPod Touch or iPhone. Use it to create a two-week logbook that you can share with your doctor or another health care professional.
Blood Glucose Meters
“Years ago, people with diabetes had to use urine strips to get glucose readings that were five hours old," Edelman says. "Nowadays, glucose meters provide continuous monitoring. These and other innovations have taken much of the guesswork out of glucose monitoring, enabling people with diabetes to maintain tighter control.” With so many available, it’s a great time to consider upgrading to a new device.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the iBGStar from Sanofi, the first device that turns an iPhone or iPod Touch into a glucose meter by connecting directly to a port. “It instantly makes all other meters seem a bit boring,” Edelman says.
The monitor also works independently and lets you upload results later on. It works with the iBGStar Diabetes Manager app, with features that let you record and track readings, carbohydrate intake, and insulin as well as analyze patterns. There’s also a share function so you can email the information.
Another option is the Bayer Contour USB meter, which plugs into a USB port on your computer and comes with software to track your blood sugar levels. You can print out a record of your results or send them to your doctor.
Continuous Glucose Monitors
Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) enable you to monitor your glucose level with real-time readouts so you can take immediate steps if the levels are too high or too low. These systems include a thin sensor and a small transmitter that easily adhere to your skin and a receiver that records the readings. Two options are the Dexcom Seven Plus, which can provide a new glucose reading every five minutes for up to seven days, and Medtronic’s Guardian Real-Time CGM System, which includes trend arrows that let you know if your levels are rising or falling quickly so you can take action.
“Insulin pumps have come a long way," Edelman notes. "Years ago they were the size of a backpack and weighed as much. Now they are small and sleek.” Medtronic offers the MiniMed Paradigm Revel Insulin Pump with its own continuous glucose monitoring, which Edelman says is ideal for people oninsulin who want to carry only one device. Other choices include the recently FDA-approved t:slim insulin pump from Tandem Diabetes Care, which is the size of a credit card, and the OneTouch Ping duo from Animas — the OneTouch Ping Meter-Remote and OneTouch Ping Insulin Pump that communicate wirelessly with each other.
A truly revolutionary insulin pump, says Edelman, is the OmniPod from Insulet because it sticks to your body with an adhesive “and you can pretty much forget about it.” The slim palm-sized pod holds and delivers insulin, and a program called PDM, or Personal Diabetes Manager, wirelessly programs your insulin delivery and calculates suggested doses. There’s even a built-in blood glucose meter.
More innovative devices are in the offing too. According to Edelman, a Medtronic system, already in use in other countries, will couple an insulin pump with a blood glucose meter. For his part, Hernandez is looking forward to the advent of Bluetooth communication between glucose meters and smartphones or computers. “This is long overdue,” he says. “It would benefit patients by minimizing the need for them to remember to plug their meter or pump into a computer for downloading data and really enabling logging in in a way that has not been possible thus far.”
By Charlotte LibovMedically reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD