Evolving with Technology to Deliver More Personal Care

Written by Kathleen Doheny

For endocrinologists and others caring for patients with diabetes, embracing innovations in medical device and software technology, understanding it, and helping patients do the same, is crucial to providing the best possible clinical care, based on a 2-day symposium, High Tech Innovations for Diabetes Mellitus,1 at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists 26th Annual Scientific and Clinical Congress, held May 3-7 in Austin, Texas.

The moderator of the medical technology session and 2 speakers shared highlights of their presentations with Endocrine Web.

Grow with the Data Explosion

"You can't really make adjustments in diabetes treatment if you can't see the data,'' said Irl B. Hirsh, MD, professor of medicine and Diabetes Treatment and Teaching Chair, at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Becoming familiar with data collection and sharing systems has become ''even more critical in the last year or 2," he told EndocrineWeb. Physicians must interpret much more data, he said, particularly because more and more evidence suggests that hemoglobin (Hb) A1c ''is a cruder test of glucose than we thought. Everyone's HbA1c is just specific to them."

This subtlety in blood results will increase the need for clinicians to pay closer attention to patients and their blood glucose levels, Dr. Hirsh said, including ''what is happening with insulin as it pertains to glucose at different times of day. We have become a very HbA1c-centric medical society.1 Now that we have learned how crude it is, we need to become more glucose-centric. You can't manage insulin just by HbA1c alone."

Among his recommendations for colleagues who are not yet comfortable with the new technology,1 Dr. Hirsh suggested:

What is Ahead for Continuous Glucose Monitors?

Session moderator, George Grunberger, MD, chair of the Grunberger Diabetes Institute in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, provided a framework for continuous glucose monitors (CGM).1,2 He recommended keeping an eye on several companies and devices, including:

Praising the advances as invaluable resources to assist clinicians in helping to avert disasters, Dr. Grunberger said. However, with these advances come practical problems—from designating and training office staff to do the implantations and educating patient to finding out ''how to set up a high-tech office without going broke," he cautioned.

Looking Back to Move Ahead

William Tamborlane, MD, professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric endocrinology at Yale School of Medicine, took a historic look at managing type 1 diabetes (T1D). "We did the first study to show that pump infusion would be effective for type 1," he said; that study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1979.8

He cited 4 technological innovations worth noting during the past 20 years:

Despite these advances, Dr. Tamborlane told EndocrineWeb that too many children and teen in the U.S. with T1D fail to achieve target Hb A1c goals, and the rates of severe hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis remain too high. Complicating the picture, Dr. Tamborlane said, is the fact that too few pediatric patients take full advantage of the high-tech advances that might otherwise help improve diabetic outcomes.

He cited data released in 2015 from the T1D Exchange Clinic Network and Clinic Registry, with information from more than 26,000 adults and pediatric patients enrolled.9 Only 17 to 21% of children reached the HbA1c goals of less than 7.5%, and teens ages 13 to 18 least likely to achieve target A1C levels. As a group, adults 26 to 50 were best able to get below 7%, but only 32% of adults achieved the desired HbA1c level, while 29% of those ages 50 and older did, and just 13% of those 18 to 26 achieved their target HbA1c.8

What will help turn this around? Technology, Dr. Tamborlane said, including CGM, sensors, the artificial pancreas, islet transplantation, and stem cells. Use of CGM among those under age 26 is uncommon, he said, ranging from only 5 to 7%.9 Among adults, use of CGM ranges from 13% (those 65 and over) with the highest users among 20 or 22% of younger adults.

However, no treatment of T1D will eliminate the risk of hypoglycemia unless there is a feedback control of insulin delivery, especially overnight, he said.