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My first year with the Apple Watch as a health-monitoring tool

I won’t go as far as to say it is a life-saver. On the other hand, it has become a key part of how I manage my type 2 diabetes.

Dexcom’s Continuous Glucose Monitoring System works with Apple Watch to help people living with diabetes monitor and reach their glycemic goals.
Apple

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


We all know about the market for health trackers. But in my case, the Apple Watch has become an indispensable health monitor. I have been a type 2 diabetic for about 25 years and, until March of 2015, I was able to control it by diet, exercise and oral medications. But last March, when I was on a trip, my blood-sugar readings skyrocketed, and no amount of medication or diet would help.

When I got home, I went to see my doctor, and he explained that, over time with many people, oral drugs cease to work, and they have to move to insulin. I had been fighting this move for the previous five years, but under the circumstances, I needed insulin to get my blood-sugar numbers under control. But the transition to using insulin was a difficult one. Getting the right amount based on carb counting and other factors was tough. I was pricking my fingers up to seven times a day to see what my blood sugars were. As a working person who travels a lot, doing this is just a bit difficult.

With this new health-monitoring device and the Apple Watch, I have one of the most effective tools I have ever used to help me deal with this disease in a highly proactive manner.


Over the last year, I have been very interested in the health-monitoring category of the watch. I have checked out things like the Withings blood-pressure cuff, where the results can be shown on the Apple Watch, and a new Apple Watch band that can record an EKG and display it on the watch. So I began to search to see if perhaps there was a blood-sugar monitoring system on the market, and discovered the Dexcom 5 Continuous Glucose Monitoring system.

I was aware of the company's early models, but had read they had some problems, so I was hesitant to get it in its early days on the market. But when the Dexcom 5 came out, I saw more positive comments on it. What sold me was the fact the readings could be displayed on my iPhone and the Apple Watch.

Thankfully, it was covered by my insurance, and I asked my doctor to prescribe it for me, as it takes a doctor’s okay to get it. About two months ago, I received it and started using it to monitor my blood sugars.

It uses a sensor and a BLE transmitter that sits on top of the sensor. Each sensor lasts seven days. The sensor has a small needle-like prong that is the thickness of two human hairs. It embeds into my stomach (I hardly feel it going in) and monitors my blood-sugar fluids 24/7.

Dexcom explains that these fluids are a bit different from monitoring the actual blood, but they are accurate to within 5 percent to 20 percent of any actual true blood-sugar reading. After two months of using it, I find a Dexcom reading versus a pin prick reading of my blood is actually pretty close most of the time and, when different, the Dexcom is off only about 10 percent to 15 percent. However, even with those discrepancies, I can now tell with pretty good accuracy what my blood-sugar readings are all of the time.

The device also has a separate transmitter I could carry, but since it works with my iPhone, I don’t need it. More importantly, that reading is on the Apple Watch, so I can check it and see what my blood glucose numbers are at any time. In the past, I had no idea what the numbers were without doing a pin-prick blood test. The other thing that has been transformative is that when I eat something with carbs in it, within 15 minutes I know how it has impacted my blood-sugar numbers.

My actual target with my blood sugars are to keep them under 160, and no lower than 80. With this app, I can set alerts that let me know when my numbers go over 160 or under 80, and it gives me a loud beep as a warning. I try to keep the numbers under 140, and this app really helps do that. Using the Dexcom 5 sensors and the Apple Watch app, I now always know what my blood-sugar ranges are.

For those with type 1 diabetes who are insulin-dependent, the Dexcom 5 and the Apple Watch changes their lives. The alarms alone are worth the price. Yet, as a type 2 diabetic, this device has also become a life-changing tool and, at least for me, the combination of this sensor system and the Apple Watch is now something I can’t live without. Yes, I could go back to only using pin-pricks, but I could never do that all day, every day. With this new health-monitoring device and the Apple Watch, I have one of the most effective tools I have ever used to help me deal with this disease in a highly proactive manner.

Today, there are over 29 million diabetics in the U.S. and, unfortunately, that number is growing. While the best thing would be for science to discover a cure, a tool like this can go a long way toward helping those of us with this disease monitor and manage it.

I won’t go as far as to say the Apple Watch is a life-saver for me. On the other hand, it is now something I can’t live without, since it has become a key part of how I manage this disease.


Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry, including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.