Among the consumer electronics giants getting involved in diabetes these days, Samsung may not be a name that pops to mind. But in fact, the well-known maker of TVs and household appliances dove head first into diabetes a few years back when it announced a partnership with Medtronic.

Samsung has since pushed deeper into this space -- from working with Medtronic to launch the Minimed Connect data-sharing tool, to partnering with Dexcom on the Android-friendly G6 launch, and a new wellness program with WellDoc for type 2s.

We re-connected recently with Kevin Jones, Senior Director of Digital Health for Samsung Electronics America, to get the latest updates. Jones tells us the company has "doubled down" in many areas since we last spoke. Here's our Q&A with him:

 

Talking mHealth with Kevin Jones of Samsung Electronics

DM) Thanks for taking time to talk, Kevin. Can you remind our readers how (and why) Samsung is involved in diabetes?

It’s the blending of consumer electronics and medical technology, for the benefit of the patient. With Medtronic, we’re allowing insulin pump and CGM data to be displayed on consumer electronics. So instead of having to pull out a pump or medical device while sitting at a restaurant, users can simply glance at their watch or phone to more discreetly monitor blood sugar.

This is particularly important for adolescents, who don't want to look like they have a medical issue, especially in front of their friends. So they tend to eat first, and then later might check their monitor or pump. We can help with little things like that. These are small steps, but they make up a huge difference in quality of life.

The big thrust is to help industry players like Medtronic make their devices more consumer-friendly and be able to render that information in an easy and unobtrusive way.

What's changed over the past few years?

It's amazing what's changed in just the past 24-36 months! We have really doubled down on our investments in the diabetes and chronic disease space.

Back when we first talked (in 2015), that was still relatively early days for us, as far as consumer technology interfacing with pumps and CGMs. We were first to get connectivity with Minimed Connect from Medtronic, and I think it helped ignite a series of events that have cascaded and really accelerated over the past few years.

It's no more a question of having one of these devices without data-sharing capabilities; now it's viewed as part of the mandatory functionality. And it should be. Patients need a better user experience for medical devices, and for decades that wasn't how they were built like consumer electronics were. At the end of the day for us, it's about a better experience for people with diabetes, to be less burdensome. We're happy to be a small part of that, which will over time become more integrated and dependent on consumer electronics companies like Samsung -- whether it's a wearable or mobile phone. It's an exciting time and we're looking to play a larger role than we have, even to date.

Tell us about your collaboration with Dexcom...

We worked closely with them to get the G6 CGM app working for Android devices right at the time of launch. There are already more than 10 Samsung devices on their compatibility list, and we're excited about having that many supported at the start. There will be even more announced soon, too. Obviously, three years ago with the G5 that was not the case. There's a lot of heavy lifting involved in making sure each of those Android devices is tested and compatible.

We also have a lot of things going beyond the obvious with Dexcom. But these are new areas yet to be publicized, so all I can say is people should keep their eye on this space and on wearables.

What about Samsung's work with WellDoc?

Earlier in 2018, we launched a new app within Samsung Health, called DWP - Diabetes Wellness Program. Basically, it takes the WellDoc health engine and turns it into a 12-week wellness program for people with type 2 diabetes. That's where much of the focus is because that's a global epidemic. So this application is aimed at helping T2s and people with prediabetes, worried about developing type 2, to better manage their health.

My wife was recently diagnosed with insulin resistance, so I signed her up for this 12-week program as part of the early adopter group testing DWP inside Samsung Health. The app tracks glucose, and you can enter health data, track exercise, activity, diet, sleep, and stress, plus here are videos and quizzes for learning. [See details from our friends at diaTribe.]

This is Samsung's first app-service of this kind, and we'll be excited to share the success as we roll it out gradually and more data becomes available.

It seems most of the big consumer tech companies are focused on type 2 diabetes -- the bigger market. Is that true for Samsung as well?

We believe a lot of the things we're doing to encourage people to be more active and fit and track their diet and sleep will service well in the type 2 space, and more broadly the type 2 preventative space, and even for type 1. That leads us into our new partnerships, some of which we'll be announcing soon as we move into the ADA Scientific Sessions.

Your work with Medtronic Diabetes seems pretty focused on the type 1 space. How has that evolved?

We worked closely with them to get Minimed Connect working for Android phones (since October 2016). That allows people to see their pump and CGM data, using their integrated sensor device (the Minimed 530G). We also had fun with the YouTube commercial they created showing people doing yoga moves and looking down at their pump data on the mobile device.

I was thrilled to be able to help Medtronic get Connect to market, and it served us well as a foundation for what we've started doing with these other companies. It's a good proof point that consumer technology is 110% critical and important to this patient population, which has many medical devices that aren't always consumer-friendly. That helped us build out our strategy.

Of course, Medtronic soon after turned their focus toward the 670G Hybrid Closed Loop technology. That didn't launch with any mobile connectivity or data-sharing capabilities, but that's logically on the way.

[In fact, after our interview with Kevin, Medtronic announced during its biannual analyst day on June 5 that it will be releasing a Bluetooth-connected version of Minimed 670G along with a paired mobile data-sharing app by April 2019.]

Samsung is also one of the nine companies chosen for the FDA mHealth Software Precertification Program. Can you share more about that?

That's been a great testimony to our focus on healthcare -- showing that FDA is becoming more aware of consumer electronics companies like ours now playing a much bigger role in healthcare than we have in the past.

All medical software is regulated as a medical device, but consumer electronics devices -- whether phones or other wearables -- are not FDA-regulated even though they've become part of the overall health solution. That's something remarkably different from when I started in this business. When we started this whole digital health focus 4-5 years ago, the FDA considered everything to be a medical device so the tablet or phone, along with the software, all had to be scrutinized. We now have more consumer-savvy people at the FDA, and we see that as a huge benefit for patients, accelerating approval of new tools. It's been great to be part of this program, and see the FDA becoming more forward-thinking and open to being progressive.

Cybersecurity always crops up as an issue. How is Samsung tuned into that?

That's important in everything we do, but when you're talking about health devices and an Artificial Pancreas that can automate insulin delivery, the cybersecurity requirements are even more important. We've been watching this closely in the health space, and just recently the Diabetes Technology Society has released its Cybersecurity Standards.

Now the FDA is saying that anything that can manage some control of a pump is an inherently risky item, and will be looked at with closer scrutiny. We're very excited about what we have done with the Samsung Knox platform, which is defense-level security built into our mobile devices and apps, in healthcare, federal government and beyond. That's a good foundation to build on, and from our consumer electronics heritage, we bring a lot of value in that regard.

What's next for Samsung in this space? A possible partnership with Abbott for FreeStyle Libre connectivity? Or...?

What can I say? None of that is public yet... But you can tell we started out with one pump-CGM partner and became very invested and passionate about taking our technology to other medical devices. We want to be inclusive, not exclusive. We want every patient who may use multiple devices to have this option for connectivity through Samsung devices and wearables. Stay tuned for news from us during the ADA Scientific Sessions (starting June 22 in Orlando).

 

Thank you, Kevin. We look forward to following Samsung's growing efforts to improve life with diabetes.