In 2015, when Apple first launched its smartphone “watch”, or “smartwatch” people all over the world flocked to the new device, but it clearly became evident that the most popular feature (besides telling time), was health and fitness tracking. Suddenly, literally within arm’s reach, users had the ability to not only track their steps and mileage but to track floors climbed, standing time, moving time, heartbeats per minute (HBM), electrocardiogram monitoring, and even check for atrial fibrillation (AFib), among other things.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, had initially suggested that they would be cautious in adding medical tracking to the watch, as approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could slow innovation.
“We don’t want to put the watch through the FDA process. I wouldn’t mind putting something adjacent to the watch through it, but not the watch because it would hold us back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long. But you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it, maybe an app, maybe something else,” Cook said.
But customer demand for health tracking proved unmatched, and the company decided to change its mind, slowly adding more and more health tracking capabilities with every new version of the watch.
It should come as no surprise that according to a report out of South Korea, the newest Apple Watch, the Series 7 as well as the newest Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (both of which are slated to launch later this year) will feature continuous glucose monitoring, developed in partnership with MIT, as people with and without diabetes alike are finding a constant watch on their blood sugars to be extremely beneficial to one’s health.
Both watches promise a “no-blood sampling method” to detect blood glucose levels using an optical sensor, and the feature will be advertised to those with and without diabetes. Unlike popular continuous glucose monitoring devices like the Freestyle Libre or Dexcom, these watches will rely on non-invasive detection of blood glucose levels, which can be achieved via infrared sensors.
Since this technology would be truly groundbreaking, it would be all but impossible to launch without FDA approval, which means that both watches would have to face several clinical trials before being available for public consumption. Clinical trials take a lot of time and money and can mean delays in a launch, especially if the glucose-sensing technology is non-invasive (which has not been seen yet, especially for people with diabetes who rely on this technology to successfully manage their diabetes).
There are many doubters, including the CEO of Valencell, an optical heart rate sensor company, who stated in 2017 that non-invasive blood glucose tracking “would never happen”.
“It is completely impossible to have a truly non-invasive glucose monitor,” Valencell CEO Steven LeBoeuf said.
Additionally, unleashing this kind of technology for mass-consumption could have unintended consequences: Will high demand for the product raise or lower the price? Will people with diabetes be priced out of their lifesaving durable medical equipment? Will blood sugar monitoring become the newest “it” thing? Will companies like Abbott and Dexcom go out of business? Will test strips eventually be a thing of the past? Will health insurance companies be mandated to cover smartwatches eventually? Will smartwatches eventually loop with insulin pumps for automatic insulin delivery? Will this be a good thing or a bad thing for the diabetes community? Is it even possible to have reliable blood glucose readings without invasive technology, interstitial fluid, or blood samples?
Can two of the leading technology companies prove all of the doubters wrong? Can people with (and without!) diabetes finally be able to track their blood sugars without invasive tactics, and achieve better control, all through a smartwatch? Can Tim Cook and Samsung CEO Ki-Nam Kim prove everyone wrong? A lot seems to be in store for the latter half of 2021, so we will just have to wait and see!
Do you monitor your blood sugars from a smartwatch? How would having your smartwatch double as a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) help you? Do you see any negatives to such a device? Share this post and comment below; we love hearing from our readers!