Any diabetic with a smartphone has suffered what I call an “Apple moment.” You look at your glucometer. You look at your phone. And you think to yourself, “I can use this phone as everything from a news aggregator to an email-getter to a virtual goldfish bowl. So why can’t these two devices connect? Well, here’s some good news: thanks to a new product called Glooko, they now can.
Glooko is a cable that connects iPhones, iPods and iPads to a variety of different glucose meters (you can see the list here) and automatically downloads blood glucose readings, eliminating the need for you to manually write down records. In Glooko’s app, you can add in additional information, like whether the reading was before or after a meal, how much insulin you took (and what kind) and whether there was anything else going on (like exercise, sickness, or having your period). Then you can export a file to share with your doctor or endocrinologist.
I have an iPhone and a Freestyle Lite meter, and when I got my Glooko, I was impressed by how easy it was to use. You download the app, you plug the cable into your meter and phone, and within a few minutes, all your data has been downloaded onto your phone. (That’s a hell of a lot faster than DexCom’s slower-than-molasses-on-a-cold-day downloads, which aren’t even possible to do on Macs.) I was able to scroll through my blood glucose readings either on a continuous list or on a chart that broke them down by day (with little apple icons that I could use to indicate whether the readings were taken before or after meals). After only a few minutes of poking around, I had figured out how I could make notes on my blood glucose readings (including the options listed above) and also see why I run through test strips so fast (16 times in one day? With a CGM?). In terms of intuitiveness, speed, and simplicity, I was very impressed.
However, there were some obvious features that were missing. Why couldn’t I look at my blood glucose readings on a graph, for example? Why couldn’t I calculate my average blood glucose during certain times of day? Why wasn’t there any other way to analyze my data? I felt a little bit indignant, as I tend to do any time a diabetes product doesn’t achieve everything I want it to. But then I talked to Anita Mathew, one of Glooko’s founders (she used to work at LifeScan), and found out that the situation is more complex than I had realized.
It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Glooko is indeed aware that it would be nice to be able to see your information on a graph, or to calculate daily averages. They also know that not everyone has iProducts, and that potential customers may be frustrated to find that Glooko doesn’t work with every meter. However, there are good reasons for all these things, and learning them made me more enthusiastic about and appreciative of what the technology does achieve.
First, the question of data. Lord knows the FDA has been getting enough crap from the diabetes community recently because of its overly cautious proposed low-glucose suspend guidance and its upcoming guidelines for artificial pancreas development. But here’s another complaint to add to the pile: it turns out that if you “manipulate” blood glucose data in any way, your device/technology gets bumped up from a Class 1 device to a Class 2. Without getting into too many details, that’s important because a Class 1 device doesn’t need to be pre-approved, but a Class 2 device does. And according to the FDA, putting blood glucose numbers on a graph qualifies as “manipulation.” (I know: what?!) So while Glooko recognizes that this is something customers want – and is working on getting the necessary approvals — they decided to come out with this version first. (As a side note, when they do get approval for these new features, you wouldn’t need a new cable; you’d just update the app.)
Second, why the limitations on phones and meters? This one’s simple: Apple’s products are very consistent, since they all have the same jack and work on the same operating system. Android phones have little quirks between them (like Samsung versus LG versus Motorola) that have to be individually addressed. Glooko is working on cables for these other companies’ phones, but they’re not done yet. Likewise, the problem with the meters is that they don’t all have the same input jacks. Right now, Glooko works on most meters that have stereo jacks for downloading. They’re working on developing cables for other meters, but again, they decided to start with the simplest option.
I am very conscientious about my blood sugar, but I’ve never actually used any computer programs to log my blood glucose – I usually just let my endocrinologist download all the data from my DexCom CGM. But with Glooko, that might change: it’s simple and fast and is a very easy way to share information. I look forward to future, more sophisticated versions, but so far I think it’s a good start, and would definitely recommend it for anyone who’s sick of logging things by hand (or paying monthly fees for a logging app) and wants a simple way to share records with their doctor.
“Diabetes is such a complicated and time-consuming disease,” Anita said when I asked her what Glooko was trying to accomplish. “We just wanted to simplify one little thing.”
It’s a goal I know we’d all love to achieve – and I commend Glooko for taking the first step.