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10

JUNE, 2018

Unnecessary deaths
Suppressed technology
Parents kept in the dark

When children are born, parents don’t foresee spending their nights waking up every two hours, to prick their child’s finger and test their blood sugar levels.

Or face the terrifying reality, every time they drift back to sleep, that their precious child might die quietly that night, without even a whimper.

Parents of children with type 1 diabetes live in a complicated world of dedication, anxiety and broken sleep.

Few of them realise that the modern technology solutions able to keep their precious children safe, are accurate and affordable.

Or that many of the founders of these products are struggling to gain access to the very people who most need their services.

Greg Ortega Unsplash

‘Dead in bed’ syndrome refers to sudden and unexpected hypoglycaemia in people with type 1 diabetes. This syndrome is estimated to account for up to 50 type 1 diabetes deaths in Australia every.

An Australian app called Predictbgl has been on the market since 2013, that can give a future prediction of blood sugar levels for the next 8 – 10 hours, for costs starting at $9.95 a month.

It’s founder was told he could not even take the app with him to a diabetic camp, that his daughter was attending. Doctors have refused to believe the technology he created even existed.

Simon Carter now has an international base of customers, successfully managing their blood sugar using his accurate software. But how many Australian parents even know this software exists?

“I told the Doctors that my algorithm could predict future blood sugars, and they didn’t believe me”
Simon Carter founder of Predictbgl

There are now a wide range of technology services created specifically to help keep diabetics safe.

Smart blood glucose machines that sync to smart phone apps. Apps with funny animals helping to educate people about the importance of taking their medications. Implantable sensors that sync to wearable insulin pumps. Smart scales to monitor for foot ulcers. Artificial Intelligence ophthalmology software to scan for diabetic retinopathy.

Few of these products are covered by government or private health plans. And information about them rarely reaches the mums and dads who sit up at night taking their children’s blood sugars.

The solution to type 1 diabetes problems have been created. But they are not yet reaching their intended market.

The struggle of health technology to gain acceptance is like the struggle the Sanitation movement faced in the 19th Century.

In order to move forward with health tech reform, it’s worth while taking a look back, at where we used to be, just a couple of hundred years ago.

The streets of European cities stank from the empty chamber pots and animal waste dumped into the streets every morning.

Doctors did not wash their hands between dissecting dead corpses in the mortuary for anatomy lessons and delivering babies.

Plagues swept across cities on a regular basis and were considered acts of divine retribution.

Into this foul smelling and often dangerous world, a number of medical and scientific reformers made the connection between microscopic germs and disease.

They used both practical experience and extensive documentation to prove their discoveries. Then spent their lives lobbying for changes to be made, in order for most children, to simply reach adulthood.

‘While investigating a local cholera epidemic in London in 1854, Snow deduced that all the cases could be traced to a single contaminated well. By having the water pump handle removed, he managed to stop the spread of the disease.’

Apostles of cleanliness The TimeLine

John Snow documented the statistical links between cholera and contaminated water using the new science of epidemiology.

Joseph Lister used carbolic acid to sterilise surgical instruments and proved it greatly reduced infections.

Florence Nightingale cleaned out hospitals sewers, opened windows, enforced cleanliness, trained nurses to observe patients and served nutritious food.

The success of the reformers was often counter balanced by resistance, suspicion and conspiracy theories.

Andre Hunter Unsplash

The fact is, modern health technology is like the germ theory of disease. It’s revolutionary.

It replaces guess work with algorithms and illegible paper records with internet-connected devices that deliver real-time data into easy to read pie charts, to anyone’s smart phone, anywhere in the world.

Like the Sanitation movement, health startups threaten the status quo.

Health tech is a new way of thinking:

 

  • Lowering costs while increasing efficiency
  • Helping people managing their own disease, instead of leaving them to deteriorate, then rushing them to the nearest Emergency Department
  • Only doing what is proven to be effective in the long term
  • Linking lifestyle factors like obesity to diseases like cancer
  • Sharing data across the world in on-line databases, rather than keeping private paper medical records

The Footy Lady by Stephanie Asher

I was recently introduced to a great book about an Australian businesswoman and philanthropist Susan Alberti. It’s called The Footy Lady.

Susan’s daughter was diagnosed as type 1 diabetic at age of 12. The girl, Danielle was not compliant with her medications. She experienced episodes of dangerously high and low blood glucose levels over a number of years.

By her late twenties Danielle was losing her eyesight. At 31 years of age she went into acute renal failure.

The book is available in both hard copy and Kindle. I’d strongly recommend anyone interested in health technology to read it.

Then think about how we can get apps like Predictbgl past the bureaucrates, conservative Doctors and politicians and into the hands of families like the Alberti’s.

© Wikihospitals June 2018

Preventing diabetes-related morbidity and mortality in the primary care setting

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