Over the years, we’ve received many mailings that have heralded the next great product in diabetes care, but we recently got one that was unusually lavish: a 12-page, magazine-type supplement, packed with color photographs, ominous data, and screaming headlines. “DIABETES EPIDEMIC OUT OF CONTROL,” blared the front page.
The advertisement focuses on the marvels of a new “wireless” glucose monitor (GlucoTel), but the promotion itself doesn’t try to convince readers to buy the product. Rather, its goal is to persuade them to buy the stock of the company that makes the meter (BodyTel Scientific Inc., which has other wireless monitoring devices in development).
The front page notes about diabetes that there are “250 million sufferers today – spiking to 350 million worldwide by 2025.”
Yes indeed, that’s a lot of suffering. But wait! The advertisement provides “a comprehensive analysis of the exploding worldwide diabetes crises – plus a STOCK PICK perfectly positioned to capitalize on this staggering growth.”
So those of us with diabetes may be suffering, but at least we can make some money along the way.
Look, we're grateful to the many companies that produce wonderful products for diabetes care, and I recognize that the quest for profits is what spurs innovation, investment and risk taking – all of which ultimately benefits diabetics. So we don’t mind that many corporate executives and investors, as well as any number of doctors, researchers, and scientists, have enjoyed commercial success from the glycemic burdens of our daily lives. But this advertisement explicitly highlights the devastation of the disease (“the number four cause of death worldwide”) as an investment opportunity (“Monitoring, pharma and insulin: $50+ billion.”) (And, note from Kelly, the combined sales in this area are high, but they aren't anywhere close to $50 billion. Monitoring is just under $7 billion globally, and oral drugs and insulin are still under $20 billion.)
That strikes us as a bit, well, awkward.
And what of the GlucoTel itself? Will it, as the ad promises, “revolutionize the way people monitor blood glucose ...”
We aren’t so sure.
The device uses “Bluetooth wireless technology” that “eliminates the greatest hurdles in diabetes management: securely recording information and making it available and useful.” Here’s how it works:
• Patient tests blood sugar on the GlucoTel meter.
• Using Bluetooth, the meter transmits measurement information to a cell phone.
• Patient may enter additional information – weight, meals, workout – directly into the cell phone.
• Complete data set is transmitted to a GlucoTel Web site.
• Patient can graph and analyze numbers.
• Medical professionals can long in, review data, and send messages directly to patients.
This last point appears to be GlucoTel’s key selling point, and such a Web site would make communications between patient and provider more efficient. The problem is that doctors, nurses, and educators are not paid for those kinds of services – telephone conversations, emails, etc. - so we aren't sure how much demand there is for this yet. They should be paid for the services but most aren't, and most providers already feel overwhelmed by the demands of diabetic patients. Our health care system does not adequately reimburse the cognitive skills (such as analyzing an endless stream of glucose numbers) that providers must use for this disease, and health care professionals have no financial incentive to do extra work in caring for patients (again, analyzing those glucose numbers), even if technology might make it a bit easier.
In fact, we don’t believe that inferior technology is the reason that diabetic patients don’t test more often (or in some cases, test at all). We think the reasons are more complex, but they include the failure of health care providers to educate patients about why testing is important and what to do with the numbers. If patients don't know how to connect the dots, and if the behavior won't change, there may not be many reasons to test.
In other words, GlucoTel’s technology may be great, but unless the company can convince providers to carry an extra load, it won’t do much good.
What’s more, we’re always a bit skeptical about technology that complicates a patient’s life. Patients can already download their meters directly onto their computers and graphically display their numbers. GlucoTel requires the added step of a cell phone – what if you get a call while you’re transmitting? Regardless, it’s more work for the patient. (If patients could get on-call advisory about the numbers that would be something else, but of course, it isn't reimbursed at present.)
Finally, the GlucoTel requires 10 seconds to read your number after applying the blood. Most meters do it in five seconds, and for those of us accustomed to that, the 10-second wait will feel like an eternity.
BodyTel Scientific may indeed be a great stock, but for now, I wouldn’t bet my last glucose strip on it.
James S. Hirsch