Share on Pinterest
Thomas Faull/Getty images

“Hey, Alexa, what’s my blood sugar?”

Amazingly, that’s not a question going unanswered by technology anymore.

Thanks to innovations from Apple’s Siri, Amazon Echo + Alexa, and Google Home in recent years, health-related voice recognition technology that was once tough to find is now going mainstream.

This capability is gaining even more steam, with Roche Diabetes Care recently announcing it has developed its own voice-enabled tool specifically for people with diabetes (PWDs).

Roche Diabetes Care (makers of the popular Accu-Chek brand glucose meters) announced in August 2020 its new voice-activated tool, Sulli the Diabetes Guru. The app will work with Alexa or Google Assistant.

Sulli answers general questions about diabetes and also provides universal tips on food, exercise, medication, glucose monitoring, and healthy lifestyle habits — all with no need to push a single button.

“With Sulli the Diabetes Guru just a voice command away, getting expert answers and diabetes management support is as easy as picking up the phone or messaging a friend,” said Matt Logan, Roche Diabetes vice president of marketing.

To ask a question, users simply need to say to their Amazon Echo, “Alexa, open Sulli the Diabetes Guru,” or to their Google Assistant, “Talk to Sulli the Diabetes Guru.”

Sulli can respond to important but nonpersonalized questions relating to life with diabetes, including:

  • What is high blood sugar?
  • What should I be eating?
  • Is it OK to exercise before taking a blood sugar test?

Users can also ask Sulli to provide scheduled reminders to take medications, provide lifestyle tips, and even help you find a nearby store to buy a fingerstick glucose monitor.

“Sulli is ideal for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who could benefit from basic education on diabetes, nutrition, and fitness,” Roche told DiabetesMine.

This tool doesn’t yet have the ability to provide specific carb counts on food items, like Alexa/Siri/Google voice technology do. And it doesn’t yet offer any personalized information, although it does have the potential to do so as Roche introduces new features.

For example, the company could tie this in directly with its Accu-Chek glucose meters, and also the mySugr diabetes data platform acquired by Roche in 2018.

Sulli the Diabetes Guru is now available for free on both Amazon Echo and Google Home/Assistant.

Back in 2017, Merck teamed up with Amazon Web Services and New York-based innovation consultancy Luminary Labs for an open-innovation challenge.

Known as the Alexa Diabetes Challenge, it called for entrepreneurs, techies, and industry types to create open solutions for these voice-tech tools to help people with chronic conditions.

Type 2 diabetes was first on the list, of course.

“Users will soon go far beyond turning on lights or calling an Uber, and will venture deeper into healthcare, helping people better manage treatments and communicate with caregivers,” Luminary said at the time. “From reminding people of their nutrition plans to scheduling reminders for insulin dosages, the Merck-sponsored Alexa Challenge will call on developers to push the boundaries of voice technology for people with diabetes.”

The grand prize winner for that challenge was Sugarpod by Wellpepper.

Sugarpod by Wellpepper is “[a] multimodal solution that provides specialized voice, mobile, video, and web interactions to support patient adherence to comprehensive care plans. It offers education, tips, and tracking tools, including a smart foot scanner, which uses a classifier to identify potential abnormalities.”

The other finalists included:

  • DiaBetty by University of Illinois at Chicago: “A virtual diabetes educator and at-home coach that is sensitive and responsive to a patient’s mood. It provides patients with context-dependent, mood sensitive, and emotionally aware education and guidance, enhancing patient skills for self-management.”
  • My GluCoach by HCL America Inc: “A holistic management solution, developed in partnership with Ayogo, that blends the roles of voice-based diabetes teacher, lifestyle coach, and personal assistant to serve the individual and specific needs of the patient. It leverages health pattern intelligence from sources such as patient conversations and wearable and medical devices.”
  • PIA: Personal intelligent agents for type 2 diabetes by Ejenta: “A connected care intelligent agent that uses NASA-licensed AI technology integrated with IoT device data to encourage healthy habits, detect at-risk behaviors and abnormalities, and alert care teams.”
  • T2D2: Taming Type 2 Diabetes Together by Columbia University: “A virtual nutrition assistant that uses machine learning to provide in-the-moment personalized education and recommendations as well as meal planning and food and glucose logging. Its companion skill authorizes caregivers to connect with a patient’s account to easily engage from afar.”

Thanks to the #WeAreNotWaiting grassroots innovation movement in our own diabetes patient community, advanced talking diabetes tech has been under development for years now.

Clever homemade tools range from allowing various devices to recite blood glucose (BG) results or trends to more sophisticated ways of using voice recognition in automated insulin delivery systems.

While most of this involves “pull” notifications that react when you ask Siri/Alexa/Google Home a question, some DIYers say they’re finding workarounds to allow Alexa to automatically announce BG numbers every 15 minutes (fascinating, but also maybe a bit annoying?).

Here’s a sampling of what some people around the Diabetes Online Community have said about their experiences with talking D-tech:

Longtime type 1 Melissa Lee in California, who now works for the data platform nonprofit Tidepool, has been using Alexa for data-sharing ever since her brilliant engineer husband, Kevin Lee, decided to take on the task of making it work as a quick weekend project.

“I find that I use it most when I’m on the move around my home, like in the middle of cooking or cleaning house,” she told DiabetesMine. “I might feel a rise or a drop and use Alexa to report to me on my status. The most useful feature is the ability to hear a prediction of where I’ll be in 15 minutes without having to pull out a graph and make those predictions myself. It takes a little of that analysis time out of my way and lets me continue doing what I was doing.”

Fellow type 1 blogger Sarah Kaye in South Carolina penned a Diabetes Daily post that chronicles how our D-Community has been embracing this talking tech and shares how it’s been working out for her.

“Being a busy work-from-home mom, I often have my hands full and don’t always have my phone with me to check my Dexcom CGM. Now all I need to do is say the command and Alexa answers,” she writes.

“All in all, pretty awesome device. While I am still learning everything that Alexa can do, I appreciate being able to simply speak a command and know my glucose levels, all while never having to break stride from what I’m doing at the time. It certainly amplifies both the coolness and usefulness that Alexa can bring to your home.”

Tech-savvy T1 peep Scott Hanselman in Oregon shared this cool demo video of him using an Amazon Echo Dot to ask Alexa for diabetes data. Nice hearing the back-and-forth conversation there!

D-Mom Kim Wyatt McAnnally in Alabama has tapped into the speaking capability of Nightscout and the xDrip app for data-sharing, using it mostly at nighttime for their T1 son, Jackson, diagnosed as a young child:

“I use my Pebble watch for most of his monitoring, but when the power goes out, or I’m busy and want a reminder without glancing at my wrist all the time, I turn on the voice option in the xDrip app. If the power goes out, his tablet can’t upload to the internet (the battery backup to our Wi-Fi can only beep so much before it drives me batty!), so I can’t get readings on my Pebble.

“That’s when I either turn the sound up and leave it in its normal place outside his room, or I bring it into the living room with me. Then it reads every BG reading aloud, allowing me to concentrate on other things while keeping me updated on his glucose levels.”

D-Mom and Nightscout programmer Kate Farnsworth in Ontario is using Alexa not only for data-sharing but also in her homemade closed-loop system:

“We started using Alexa right around Christmas when one of my good friends sent us two from the U.S. At first we set it up so that we could ask Alexa how my daughter was doing, and Alexa would tell us her BG, trend, insulin on board, etc., from Nightscout. It was a novelty, really, since I already have that information on my watch.

“The really useful part was when I programmed Alexa to trigger different OpenAPS targets for my daughter’s pump. It is much easier to say, ‘Alexa, trigger eating soon’ while I am cooking dinner than it was to pull out my phone or watch to do the same. This sets my daughter’s insulin pump to 4.4 mmol (80 mg/dL) for an hour, sort of like a pre-bolus. We also have higher workout targets set as well. It has been very helpful. I hope to figure out more ways to use Alexa to help our family.”

Connecticut D-Mom Samantha Merwin says her family occasionally asks Amazon Alexa to help share data for their 10-year-old son, Logan, who was diagnosed at 17 months old:

“We try not to obsessively ask (Logan) to check his blood sugars at the house, unless he’s running uncharacteristically low or high. We sometimes find it a pain to go grab our phone and check the Dexcom Share app, so we have Alexa in our kitchen and we just ask her what Logan’s BG is.

“We all think it’s kind of fun, but I don’t think it’s a necessary part of our day-to-day management. I like the convenience, that we can get his BG through our Apple watches, but we don’t use them in the house.”

On a related note, Merwin laughs at how her family currently makes heavy use of the Tile app to track down missing diabetes devices.

“The Tile app is more fun, as the kid loses his receiver in our house at least once a week. No one with a T1D child should be without it,” she said.

Hopefully, all this talking technology will continue to be helpful — without ever taking on any judgmental attitude with regard to high and low blood sugars, right?!

“Hey, Alexa, what’s next in diabetes technology?