Well, now that same super computer system will be applied to the world of diabetes management. No kidding! On Monday afternoon, the big news hit that insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor maker Medtronic is partnering with computer giant IBM and its newly formed IBM Watson Health Unit.
Could this lead to some future diabetes apparatus that's so sophisticated, you could ask it a question about your glucose data or D-management and have it give you an answer? Maybe not Jeopardy-style like Watson did back in 2011, but that's the image that comes to my mind here... and hey, you never know, right?
At a time when device companies are turning to cloud-based platforms and smart algorithms to provide more management options for people with diabetes, Medtronic is stepping up its game by tapping into IBM's cognitive computing and powerful analytics.
According to the news release, the two companies will jointly design what they're calling "diabetes care management solutions" leveraging Medtronic's devices, therapies and coaching services with IBM's new cloud-based open platform, Watson HealthCloud. It appears they're aiming to create a platform that will offer a foundation for data access and "deep insights-as-a-service" across the healthcare spectrum, for doctors, researchers, insurers and patients.
The potential certainly seems huge... even if the details are still vague.
"IBM and Medtronic will be exploring ways to work together to develop a new generation of personalized diabetes management solutions. However, it’s too early to make specific predictions of what might be brought to market,Medtronic spokeswoman Karrie Hawbaker tells us. "Some of what we’re looking at would be part of the device and some might be as new services we offer. Medtronic has been looking to collaborate with a variety of partners to enable the entire diabetes community to transform diabetes care."
This big IBM news comes on the heels of other exciting announcements from Medtronic: acquisition of the Netherlands-based diabetes care center Diabeter, and a licensing agreement with Israeli-based DreaMed Diabetes to use the first-ever Artificial Pancreas algorithm approved in Europe earlier this year. DreaMed created software called GlucoSitter, that's based on a proprietary MD Logic Artificial Pancreas algorithm that Medtronic now has access to.
Tying this all together, IBM and Medtronic plan to work together to develop near real-time dynamic personalized care plans that focus on better outcomes, and Medtronic expects to use IBM's Watson platform to improve on the DreaMed algorithm just acquired.
Add to that Medtronic's big investment in Glooko recently, and the company is on a roll. Glooko of course creates a wireless solution that helps people with diabetes easily access and share the data on their meters, and eventually other devices.
Medtronic has also announced its hopes to bring its next-gen "hybrid closed loop" (Minimed 670G) to the U.S. in 2017, before that's unveiled in Europe -- which represents a culture shift right there since D-device companies generally launch overseas first. But with the FDA's push to improve efficiency of its review process, and also speed up the closed-loop development R&D, this is a new day.
While it's still too early to know what might actually materialize from these partnerships, one possibility is a revamp of the Medtronic Carelink software that does allow you to access the system from anywhere, but uses outdated Java technology and doesn't currently give users the choice to incorporate data from non-Medtronic devices.
"We are expanding our view and understanding of what people with diabetes need and want," says Medtronic's Annette Bruls, head of the Diabetes Services and Solutions Division. "Instead of a one-time touch point with your doctors, we are trying to provide total solutions and not only technology."
Meanwhile, with the Diabeter acquisition, Medtronic is showing leadership in getting involved with patients at point of care. Diabeter is a renown independent, innovative clinic focused on "comprehensive and individualized care" for children and young adults with diabetes. They currently manage over 1,500 patients with a team of 36 people at four locations around the Netherlands, making use of personalized coaching and specially developed technologies, including their own "Diabeter Dashboard," an electronic system that links patient and physician "to encourage self-management with diabetes care team support."
What they've accomplished with this approach is quite remarkable -- with motivated patients who've shown significant reductions in their A1c levels.
Hawbaker says U.S. doctors are eager to learn more about this successful approach, and see how it could be imported over here. But she of course reminds us that the health insurance reimbursement system operates much differently here than it does overseas. (We KNOW!) But that's an area Medtronic will be studying as it moves forward with its Diabeter partner.
Anyhow, there's a lot to look forward to, even with so much still unknown. Great to see that longtime insulin pump market leader Medtronic isn't just sitting on its laurels.
So will we ever see a CGM or insulin pump able to act like Siri, where all we have to do is "Ask Watson" for a multitude of answers on diabetes? Medtronic says what it would do with IBM Watson is a different type of algorithm and analysis, but it's important to keep dreaming, right?