When it comes to connecting diabetes devices and assuring that they can "talk to each other," the small but mighty startup Glooko is making surprising progress. But it's doing so with what is essentially a clever workaround -- the first and only plug-in cable between popular glucose meter models and the iPhone/iPod, which debuted in November 2011.
Touting the motto "free your data" (sorely needed!), Palo Alto, CA-based Glooko has been busy on Amazon.com selling its $40 cables that automatically suck up your BG data into an at-a-glance logbook-style app you can easily transmit to your doctor electronically, or print out. The cable connects to a total of 17 different meters and downloads glucose data to iOS devices, and users can also add notes about carbs, insulin doses and other health info.
But, a connector cable? In 2013? Doesn't it seem like PWDs (people with diabetes) ought to be able to take advantage of the advanced wireless capabilities built into all other kinds of electronics these days?
Well yes, but we are clearly not there yet. A combination of FDA limitations (they're still mulling over mobile health guidance) and vendors' reluctance to open communication protocols means one of the most exciting startups in diabetes right now is a cable company!
Yep, Glooko is popular. And the start of 2013 brings new developments that are certainly pluses for anyone in the D-Community wanting to use this connection solution.
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The company recently received FDA 510(k) approval as a Class 2-compatible device, meaning the connection cables are now designated in the same category as glucose meters (read: actual medical devices). This is key to making Glooko a tool for care, rather than just an "accessory" and way to move your numbers around, according to spokeswoman Molly Leebove.
Previously, Glooko cables were designated Class 1 devices -- the type with the least amount of regulatory control and which don't need FDA approval for marketing, but are not allowed to interpret or "manipulate" data from a medical device in any way (they can only transfer data in its original form). This meant the Glooko product couldn't create graphs or charts of the data collected -- a huge drawback for a logging tool. But with the new clearance, they can introduce in the U.S. their new Glooko Logbook Charts product, which was available only in Europe up until now.
"Prior to Glooko Logbook Charts, there was no way to see the blood glucose data from your Glooko Logbook app in graph format," Leebove said. "Now, users can visualize their readings by time of day, day of week, analysis by day of week and summary statistics."
First, you upload the data from your meter to the Glooko Logbook app on your iPhone or iPod. Then you send yourself a CSV file and open that file on your computer. From there, you click to download the new Glooko Logbook Charts, where the data can be viewed in an Excel spreadsheet on either a Mac or PC.
From there, you can view the BG data in all kinds of charts and formats and play with it by date, by high or low value, and start identifying trends.
Yes, you are sidestepping the whole mobile device platform to use this new charting program, which as Bennet notes, seems like a step backward. He wondered if the FDA mandated this, and curious about that we asked Glooko to explain.
Leebove's response: "Our Glooko Logbook Charts meets the needs of our power users and health care professionals today. Longer term, we hope to extend this innovation to our mobile platforms in new and exciting ways."
Vague, to be sure. But that's apparently where things are at for now.
For the time being, the company will continue to sell Glooko products exclusively over Amazon.com, but does plan to expand to over the counter sales in pharmacies sometime soon; they're not releasing any details on that yet, according to another spokeswoman, Rita Sharma.
We also asked about insurance reimbursement for Glooko products, of course. "We have not looked at reimbursement for any of the products. That's not to say it will never happen -- it's to say that we have not put attention there yet," Sharma says. That seems odd to us. They must be pretty convinced that enough PWDs will pay out of pocket for this particular logging solution. Hmm...
Leebove said Glooko decided to hold off on announcing the Class 2 FDA approval until this month to coordinate with other news -- largely the release of the Logbook Charts product here in the States. This isn't the end of the company's news stream, though.
Later this year, Glooko plans to go beyond the iPhone market and finally tap the Android smartphones with a new connection cable (I'm a Droid user, so this makes me smile!). Glooko hasn't laid out specific dates yet, but Leebove says the Droid-expansion will be in 2013.
Right now, the Glooko cable only works with iPhones and iPods, but not with iPads... so we'll have to see if that materializes anytime soon, as well. Leebove also says that later this year, Glooko will also be connecting with even more meters. The brands and companies aren't yet being disclosed.
Other news nuggets that came with the mid-January announcement were that Glooko has launched its very own "community blog" where it's sharing news and updates. The company also announced two new executives who've joined the company: former Intuit Health exec Rick Altinger as CEO, and former Epocrates executive Dean Lucas as the new VP of product development (he could very well be the strategic brain behind bringing Glooko to the Droid).
"Lack of support across multiple meter types and differing data transfer methods have long withheld a truly unified diabetes management solution.
"By creating a universal diabetes management platform, Glooko is beginning to crack the code... as a unifying force in a disjointed ecosystem."
— new Glooko CEO Rick Altinger, in a January 2013 news release
"Kudos to the Glooko guys for fighting the good fight and shame on the blood sugar meter manufacturers for making their job hard," wrote type 1 tech blogger Scott Hanselman in a seminal post on the "Sad State of Diabetes Technology in 2012" not long ago.
Of course, now that we are seeing Bluetooth 4.0/Smart in action and paving the way for low energy data merging between blood meters and smartphones, one has to wonder what the future of Glooko might actually be. With new products like LifeScan's OneTouch Verio Snyc glucometer on the horizon, it seems we are finally on the path to built-in wireless sharing becoming the norm, which will eliminate the need for clunky connection cables.
In an interview last summer, right after Glooko launched in Europe, company chairman and co-founder Yogen Dalal said they are looking at low-energy Bluetooth and "alternative ways to connect glucose meters to smartphones." One possibility might be that Glooko adopts the same method used by mobile-payments company Square -- connecting through the phone's headphone jack.
Can Glooko continue to triumph when the trend is clearly moving away from the need for connection cables? Only time will tell -- since reading the diabetes tech future is never easy. We don't yet have an app for that.