hundred years ago, there was no effective treatment for diabetes. It was in the 1920s that the great Canadians Banting and Best first isolated insulin. Fifty years ago, there was no real way for people with diabetes to monitor their glucose levels at home. The first home glucose meters didn’t arrive on the market until the late 1960s, and compact easy-to-use models became prevalent only in the 1980s. Now, with the advent of Internet-connected blood glucose meters and their attendant software, the management of this chronic disease is undergoing another change perhaps just as big.

Philip Hosiassohn has been a practicing pharmacist for 35 years, first in South Africa and now at Rexall in Hamilton, Ontario. He has been helping people manage their Type-1 and Type-2 diabetes for his entire career and, himself father to a son with diabetes, has a very personal interest in the disease and the technology that can help manage it. Most importantly, he believes strongly that, despite the many challenges of living with diabetes, people with the condition do in fact have the tools to take control of their health.

Putting your health in drive

“I like to describe the difference between someone who has diabetes and someone who doesn’t as like the difference between a standard and an automatic car,” says Hosiassohn. “If you have diabetes, you have to take manual control of some aspects of your health. But it is controllable.”

Of course, learning to drive stick is a bumpy process. The better the technology gets, the easier we can make that process for people who are coming to terms with a diabetes diagnosis. “When someone gets a diagnosis of diabetes, it can be a major shock,” acknowledges Hosiassohn. “It brings lifestyle changes, medication changes; it’s a lot to digest. Anything we can do to make that transition simpler is a very good thing.”

And making the process as simple as possible is of paramount importance. Patient compliance with testing and getting access to accurate glucose data has long been a challenge for healthcare providers treating diabetes.

The manual transmission car just got a major upgrade

The newest blood glucose meters, like the OneTouch Verio Flex and its associated smartphone app, are bridging that gap between patients and their diabetes care team. “The first device I used that marketed this integrated Bluetooth technology was from OneTouch,” says Hosiassohn. “Now, the reading can go straight from the blood glucose meter to your cellphone through the OneTouch Reveal app on your smartphone or tablet into cloud storage and directly to the health care provider. It’s a seamless experience for the patient and their physician or pharmacist, from the prick of the finger to the health care provider’s computer.”

This is a massive change from the days when people living with diabetes had to eyeball the colour of test strips against a chart and take meticulous records in a handwritten log book. “With these new meters, you don’t have to write anything down,” says Hosiassohn. “It’s all electronically stored. It’s right there on your meter or your cellphone, you can print out all kinds of reports, and it all can be sent directly to the physician or pharmacist.”

That convenience not only makes life easier for those living with diabetes, it greatly helps the healthcare provider as well. “With accurate information we can make much earlier and better-informed interventions,” says Hosiassohn. “By using this data to guide our patients in improving their A1C (three month blood glucose value), we can also largely improve the morbidity factors and outcomes of diabetes, from cardiovascular health to eyesight.”

Putting the patient in the driver’s seat

From Hosiassohn’s perspective, the most remarkable thing about these advances in diabetes monitoring technology is the way they are putting the power to manage this condition in the hands of those who live with it. “The key thing is to have the patients taking control of their own fate. With health care providers looking in through the window provided by this technology, we can enable them to better do that. It really is an enabler. It empowers the patient to improve their quality of life.”

And that, the empowerment of people with diabetes to live their best life on their own terms, is the goal that the community has been chasing since well before Banting and Best.