The Apple Watch as a Health Monitoring Tool

on May 13, 2016

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Many of my colleagues at Tech.pinions have weighed in on the anniversary of the Apple Watch and shared their various opinions on its success and challenges ahead. But in my first year of using the Apple Watch, it has become a device that literally has impacted my personal life and health.

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 5 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.

Over the last year, I have been very interested in a new category that has emerged with the Apple Watch called “health monitoring”. I have checked out things like the Withing Blood Pressure Cuff where the results can be shown on the Apple Watch, to 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 their early models but had read they had some problems and 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 OK 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 24X7.

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

They also have 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 Watch and, at any time, I can check it and see what my blood glucose numbers are. 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 actually 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 that 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 this 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 US 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 towards 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.