When I first reported on the GlucoPhone last summer, it was looking like a classic case of vaporware. But now it seems that New Jersey-based HealthPia has actually pulled it off: they've obtained FDA approval for their patent-pending technology that integrates a blood glucose meter with a standard-issue cell phone.
The GlucoPhone is not just for SENDING blood glucose data over the net. It's actually a special glucose meter (GlucoPackâ„¢) that's fitted onto the back of a cell phone. So yes, you stick your test strip into a little slot on the side of the phone and bleed on it, just like you would any meter. Then you can immediately "text" your results to a database available online with the subscriber's permission, i.e. you set the access rights.
Check out this Fox News link for a quick demonstration.
After several years of what seemed like empty talk, HealthPia has quietly "launched" its first marketable model, the Verizon LG5200 phone (CDMA platform) for the US market at last week's AADE Conference.
"The fact of the matter is that most people with diabetes are more concerned with the daily hassle of managing the disease than the long-term complications. But with something like this, we can help cut the hassle and focus on what's important," HealthPia President Kathi O'Neill tells me. She is Type 1 herself for 27 years and insists that she wouldn't feel right promoting any diabetes product that didn't live up to its promise of improving on the usability aspect.
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The original GlucoPhone technology was developed in Korea, and imported to the US by Dr. Stephen Kim in 2003.
The glucose meter component actually replaces the back of the cell phone, and software functions normally contained in traditional "bulky" glucose meters are handled by the cellular technology. The hardware is specially designed to fit in standard commercial cell phones. The company has ambitious plans to develop more models for popular, sleek consumer phones including the Motorola Razr and the Apple iPhone, if you can believe it (see prototypes pictured -- and yes, Kathi read my recent appeal to Steve Jobs for some help "consumerizing" D-devices). HealthPia's iPhone prototype uses a small dongle device called the Gluco+, about the size of a quarter.
But it hasn't been -- and won't be -- easy, since a new mold must be developed for each individual phone design, and HealthPia must negotiate certification with each cellular carrier. "The wireless people don't understand the glucose monitoring business, and the glucose monitoring people don't understand the wireless companies," O'Neill laments.
Meanwhile, the first models have hit the market at a humble introductory rate of $149 for the unit, plus $20 for each vial of 50 test strips. Yes, yes, I know, you have lots of questions for Ms. O'Neill. So did I:
So who actually makes the BG meter technology and test strips?
We work with a major, established OEM (original equipment manufacturer).
But you have to buy the test strips from HealthPia? What about insurance coverage?
Yes, we distribute them exclusively at the moment. We're selling the supplies at a loss for the introductory period, to make them affordable without insurance coverage. You have to get a foothold in the market. Later on, with reimbursement, we can move to more equitable market pricing.
What about calibration and test strip coding?
Yes, you have to enter a code (calibrate), and it comes with control solution, just like most regular meters on the market today.
Is there any charge for the database service?
No, that's part of the deal. By the way, if you already have a Verizon LG5200 phone in the US, you can purchase the meter pack and software only as an add-on. Otherwise, it's a turnkey solution: you buy the whole product together. There's no extra charge for transmitting your data, and you can text message anyone you want. You can either provide your login and password to individuals you want to allow access, or we can add other authorized users for you, but only with your express permission, and there are lots of security layers. The huge advantage is the ability set parameters to automatically send results to anyone you want, any time you want. So if a kid's in school from 9 to 3, for example, you could set the GlucoPhone to send results to their parent during that time period.
And the cellphone service?
Of course, you still have to pay for that. That's handled by the carrier, Verizon or AT&T, etc. It's totally separate from the glucose meter portion.
So who's actually used this in the real world so far?
We held clinical trials with adolescents at Indiana University. It was a relatively small sample size, but the results were amazing -- even in regard to lowering A1c levels.
I've worn an insulin pump since 1986. Now my doctor might actually be happy, because I refuse to write down my blood sugars. I'm more visual, I need graphs. But it's impossible for me to do my own trend charting. I just never download all the data.
The ultimate goal here is to get the meter manufacturers and the wireless technology manufacturers to work together to get us something useful. I mean, I go out often and forget my meter. I forget other things, but I never forget my phone...
Well now, that SOUNDS pretty real. I can't wait to try one in my real, very wireless, no-data-logging, impatient, less-blood-and-fewer-gadgets-please world.