First, there's the drudgery of managing diabetes, trying to balance one's sugar and insulin levels, a Promethean task that will never come into balance.
Just consider the routine of. Several times a day, you have to prick your finger with a small lance, drawing enough blood to swipe a
test strip, and then wait for a read-out blood glucose (which must fall within various targets,
depending on whether the test is taken before or after a meal). Then, depending on the reading and one's condition, a patient must decide whether to eat
and what to eat, or whether to take an insulin injection. It's a complicated, multi-step process that involves plenty of friction.
Which is where the second issue arises: the tools themselves. There are more than 30 different glucometers available from more than a dozen manufacturers.
And they're all typically frustrating to use, unforgiving, and clumsily designed. In fact, in the world of well-designed iPhones and Fitbits and Fuelbands,
glucometers and other devices for diabetics seem a decade out of date. In part, this is because they're not designed as consumer devices; they must meet
strict FDA guidelines and deliver clinically valid results. But for users, that's no excuse.
There are some promising products out there. The iPhone can improve the functionality of glucometers; last month the FDA approved
LifeScan's VerioSync glucometer; the device automatically sends blood sugar levels to an iPhone via Bluetooth (fewer steps mean fewer mistakes and less
anxiety). The iBGStar is a similar patient-centric tool. And the holy grail of diabetes tools still hovers out there:
the non-invasive glucose monitor, which will allow patients to check their blood levels without drawing blood. When such devices can connect to automatic
insulin pumps, which adminster insulin into a patient's bloodstream subcutaneously through an open line rather than an injection, some of the hassle and
stigma of diabetes may be lessened. But those days aren't here yet.
And that's the third issue: the emotional baggage of constantly monitoring and measuring one's health. For people with diabetes, which is a largely
invisible condition, the angst of disease management is always there, quietly gnawing away. Because once you have diabetes, there's no such thing as
normal. You can get your blood levels in range, but there's never a moment, ever, when the disease will go away. Indeed, there's a self-defeating
temptation to let one's guard down when the disease does go into balance, sending one's glucose levels spiraling away once again.
Again, there are some new tools that help address these issues. Ginger.io is a new company that offers apps to help people
track and manage their diabetes among a supportive community of other diabetics. It seems tremendously promising for those inclined to add one more
instrument to their to do list.