The extent and impact of today’s data driven world is nothing short of staggering. In every aspect of our lives, we are now generating huge amounts of new personal data about our habits, preferences, activities, consumption, movements and even carbon footprints. This has, in turn, given rise to new applications and even entirely new industries built on mining and analyzing that data for a myriad of purposes.
Personalized data now fuels everything from improving customer service, to targeting marketing campaigns more effectively, to motivating people to be more physically active. But for those of us in the health care sector, the progress which has already been made – and the prospects for even greater new applications in the future – is beyond exciting.
Personal data, and the ability to harness it for improved health outcomes, is revolutionizing the way health care is being delivered. In a very short period, we’ve seen dramatic leaps forward in specific types of care based on data analytics, especially in the management of diseases and other chronic conditions which humans have grappled with for a long, long time.
At Dexcom, our focus is on helping people with diabetes. More than 3 million Canadians – a population larger than that of Greater Vancouver – manage the disease every day. And despite the made-in-Canada development of insulin, and generations of more advanced research and greater expertise in managing the disease, diabetes continues to take a tremendous toll on the health, productivity and quality of life of far too many friends, colleagues and family members.
There are more than 40 different factors which can have a significant impact on the blood glucose levels of a person with diabetes. From the type of carbohydrates that might have been in their breakfast, to whether they’re under stress, doing physically demanding activities, taking certain medications or even if the outside temperature is extremely hot or cold. Any one of these can impact their ability to maintain blood sugar levels in the optimum range. And being too high or too low can have grave, or even fatal, consequences.
But here is where the exciting benefits of personal health data come into play. Up until recently, people with diabetes had no other option than to prick their finger multiple times each day, drawing blood in order to check their glucose levels using a paper test strip. The blood drop would interact with chemicals on the strip, and they would be provided with a static glucose value for that moment in time. This was a ritual which had gone unchanged for generations.
Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) system has made that archaic (and painful) process a thing of the past. A small sensor, usually worn on the stomach or upper buttocks, painlessly and consistently analyzes the user’s blood glucose levels. Their individualized data is sent every five minutes to a smartphone app, telling them not only precisely where their levels are at, but also (through data analytics) predicting with tremendous accuracy their glucose trends and the potential for adverse events (sugars being too high or too low) even before they occur.
And by taking that data functionality to a mobile platform, we have been able to open up new avenues for the application of this real-time medical data, which is in itself precious to the individual patient. This marriage of technology and data analytics is literally changing people’s lives. It’s a tremendous improvement for adults, and also for parents of children with diabetes. Parents and loved ones now have the ability to keep tabs on their family or friend’s glucose levels at any moment, with the option to receive alerts and alarms on their smartphone if glucose levels are becoming dangerous, giving everyone incredible peace of mind.
The future potential for next-level innovation using personal health data applications is truly spectacular. As a health technology company, we feel fortunate to be here in Vancouver, home to some of the world’s brightest minds and incubators of technology and data-based trailblazers.
We’re combining our technology with other applications: algorithms, phones, connections to insulin pumps, all with the goal of giving people with diabetes a fully automated glucose monitoring and insulin delivery system.
These are tremendously hopeful and exciting times in the health and wellness space. We’re already seen great leaps forward in helping people live better lives thanks to technology and data analytics, and we’re really only getting started.
Laura Endres is General Manager of Dexcom Canada Co.