Dr Emma Wilmot
Founder, Diabetes Technology Network UK (DTN-UK)
Consultant Diabetologist, University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS FT
Honorary (clinical) Associate Professor, University of Nottingham
Those living with diabetes are benefitting from an acceleration in digital technology. But more work is needed to ensure everyone can get access to life-changing technology.
“In just five years, things have changed dramatically,” says Dr Emma Wilmot, Founder of Diabetes Technology Network UK (DTN-UK) and Consultant Diabetologist at the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton.
Back in 2017, flash glucose monitoring devices were available but only to those who could self-fund them. Until April 2019, only 11% of people living with type 1 diabetes in England had NHS funding for the tech, according to the NHS.
Then everything changed. New national guidelines were introduced which ensured more of those living with diabetes could access flash glucose monitoring devices on the NHS. “We now have more than 50% of people living with type 1 diabetes who have access to it,” continues Wilmot.
The technology uses a small sensor on the back of the upper arm to continuously monitor glucose levels. Results can be easily accessed by swiping the sensor with a smart phone without the need for invasive, uncomfortable finger pricks.
In a national audit, use of the tech has been shown to improve glucose levels and reduce diabetes-related hospital admissions. Fewer people living with diabetes are experiencing health issues that come with low blood sugar levels.
Training is key
To help support the digital rollout, DTN-UK have developed accredited courses to build the skills and confidence of health care professionals working with diabetes technology. As the tech revolution continues, training will be vital to ensure everyone living with diabetes benefits from the latest tools.
New innovations already in the pipeline include a hybrid closed-loop system, also known as an artificial pancreas.Available since 2018, the system continuously monitors an individual’s glucose level and automatically adjusts the amount of insulin delivered to help keep glucose levels in the target range. NHS England have recently launched a trial of this technology in 1,000 patients.
While the uptake of digital technology continues to accelerate, there are concerns that some will be left behind.
Connected pens are also being piloted to record a patient’s insulin intake. They will be used with the flash glucose monitoring system and blood glucose meters to support people with diabetes to maintain optimal glucose levels. These types of connections could be in circulation by the end of the year.
Bridging the digital gap
While the uptake of digital technology continues to accelerate, there are concerns that some will be left behind. By its nature, these new innovations often require those living with diabetes to have access to either a smart phone or computer and some digital know how.
The COVID pandemic has already highlighted the digital divide in our nation and Wilmot is concerned that some of those living with diabetes will fail to benefit unless more is done to support access and to educate healthcare professionals in the latest technologies for those living with diabetes. Investment will be required on a much broader scale to ensure everyone benefits.