Merck aims to put Amazon’s Alexa to work on voice-enabled diabetes tools


Alexa? Help pharma find patient solutions.

That’s what Merck & Co. is aiming for in its new partnership with Amazon Web Services to develop digital voice-enabled solutions for people living with chronic diseases.

Using the tech behind the Amazon Echo, Merck plans to initially work on diabetes. Its first initiative will be a call to entrepreneurs, techies and industry types for an innovation challenge expected to begin within the next month.

The yet-to-be-named challenge will be run by strategy and innovation consultancy Luminary Labs. While specifics haven’t been released, the call to action will “be open to solutions broadly enough that innovators of all stripes can come up with really novel ideas but being narrow enough to provide guidance and carefully evaluate submissions,” said Sara Holoubek, founder and CEO of Luminary Labs.

An independent jury will evaluate the submissions based on their use of voice-enabled technology that addresses Type 2 diabetes patient issues.

Merck’s long-term plan is to create tools for other chronic diseases using the same Amazon Lex platform and the voice-enabled Alexa home system.

Analysts estimate Amazon will sell more than 110 million Amazon Echo devices over the next four years, and many are already pointing to healthcare as an important item on Alexa’s eventual to-do list.

“Users will soon go far beyond turning on lights or calling an Uber, and will venture deeper into healthcare, helping people better manage treatments and communicate with caregivers,” Luminary notes on its website. “From reminding people of their nutrition plans to scheduling their insulin dosages, the Merck-sponsored Alexa challenge will call on developers to push the boundaries of voice technology for people with diabetes.”

Why It’s Hot

Through recent discussions about how we’ll use Alexa or any voice-enabled assistants, this is extremely smart.  Leveraging technology to assist those that have a lot to manage with their health can potentially keep people more compliant, and therefore keeping themselves healthier.  Taking annoying tasks to remember off people’s plates so they can enjoy more of their life is a great direction to take this technology.  Expect to see more of this in the near future.


A New App To Make Life Easier For Diabetics, Using Instagram

After an initial diagnosis, diabetes sufferers often experience a period of shock when they learn that everything has to change. Turkish mobile operator, Turkcell, and agency R/GA London have created an app to make adjusting to the necessary life changes much easier.

The app tracks a user’s condition via a photographic journal, using Instagram. By synching with a wireless reader that takes blood measurements, Selftrak is also able to map levels to an Instragram image, allowing medical professionals and friends to provide input and support. Alongside this, like everyone else in the world it seems, diabetics take snaps of their meals and post them, and again, these can be liked and helpful suggestions made.

The idea is to make using the app as simple as possible, helping people stay motivated, complying with treatment and keeping the lines of communication with medical staff open.So far, Selftrak has been tested in an 18-month long study with 200 diabetes patients at Istanbul University. The latest version, still in beta phase, is available on Google’s app store and a more limited iteration is currently available via Apple. Updates are planned in the coming months.

Watch the video here:



Why it’s hot:

Instead of trying to persuade sufferers to adopt entirely new habits, tools and behaviors to monitor the condition, Selftrak deploys Instragram, a tool many people already use and taps into behaviors that people already have. And initial tests prove the app is making a difference — the results of the 18-month trial are highly encouraging. Treatment compliance increased by 54%. Blood sugar levels decreased by 27% and complication forecasts decreased by 37%.

Wearable Device Implications for Rural Healthcare

Today, the most popular type of wearable health device is the fitness tracker, embraced by fitness enthusiasts, data geeks…primarily, the intersection of the two. However, wearable technologies have the potential to measure much more than steps, distance and calories; extending to glucose, blood pressure and brainwaves. The implications for healthcare are significant.


Physicians are already reporting that wearable technologies are helpful for patients managing obesity (the obvious), as well as diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. Wearables can also improve on-the-job safety by monitoring alertness, location and time/performance. In areas where access to physicians is limited, wearables are particularly important; helping the consumer or patient to take charge of her own health.

In this presentation, Wearable Medical Devices, implications for rural India, where there are fewer than 1 doctor for every 10,000 people, are explored. While wearables could help reduce dependency on these very few doctors, barriers to penetration include: price, positioning as a fitness vs. general health/wellness device and lack of marketing in local languages. By addressing these barriers, wearable technologies will gain access to huge untapped populations. One can even imagine a future where health insurance companies offer discounts to people who wear the devices, just as car insurance companies have done for drivers who have installed wireless devices to track when and where their car is on the road.

Why It’s Hot: Real-time feedback on health will greatly change consumers’ behavior; how they engage with health/condition-related content on the wearable, the web, et al., as well as how they engage with their caregivers/families and healthcare providers. In-person doctor visits may become less frequent, as wearables make patients more self-sufficient, as well as facilitate remote care/treatment of the patient by the doctor. Pharma marketing channels, such as in-office magazine wraps and television commercials, EMRs, wearable in-app ads, et al., increase/decrease in penetration and effectiveness.

Swift FDA Approvals and Recent FDA Exemptions Make 2015 The Year of Healthcare Innovation

The FDA approved a new share platform for a diabetes continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system making it the first on the market to be able to wirelessly transmit (via Bluetooth LE) glucose readings directly to an iPhone.

dexcombooth-580x537“The FDA approved a new version of the Dexcom Share platform, which will make the Dexcom G4 continuous glucose monitor (CGM) the first on the market to be able to wirelessly transmit glucose readings directly to an iPhone.”

A wearable device sensor (worn on the body) will transmit CGM through the Dexcom receiver to the Dexcom iPhone app. The iPhone app will then transmit the data through the cloud to share it with up to 5 user-approved followers of the Dexcom Follower app such as caregivers, certified diabetes educators, and spouses.

dexcom gen 5 app

The push to partner component with third party app and device manufacturers is HUGE . This system is the first time there will be official, live continuous glucose information available on the iPhone and in the Cloud.

Dexcom-approved partner iPhone apps such as Meal Memory and Apple Healthkit would be able to pull live glucose data on demand, without requiring user input.

Secondly, during the FDA approval process, the apps themselves were down-classified to a Class II device exempt from pre-market clearances. Therefore, future “Follower” apps from Dexcom and other companies will not require separate pre-market approval from the FDA,  as long as they do not claim to be the primary readout of the data.



Why it’s HOT: The FDA has made a landmark move forward with this “Dexcom Share” platform approval. This approval included Bluetooth-enabled transmission of health data via wearable device sensors to an iPhone app putting health data in the cloud in conjunction with third party apps down-classification by the FDA is making 2015 quite an exciting year for Healthcare Technology Innovation.

Photo credit: Klick Health // Article Source:


Teddy bear helps kids with diabetes

About 15,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes are diagnosed among children every year. Now an organization called Design for America has helped introduce a cuddly therapeutic teddy bear named Jerry the Bear that helps kids understand their diabetes and how to manage it.

Like the children who receive him, “Jerry ‘lives’ with diabetes, and can receive insulin shots in his legs, arms, and buttocks, helping children become familiar with the practice,” according to an article in PSFK. “Kids can also check Jerry’s blood sugar, “feed” him by swiping chip-embedded food cards, and monitor his diet, all of which spurs displays on his tummy-mounted screen, the Glucopal. The new generation of Jerry the Bears can also connect to learning materials online via computer, allowing kids to play diabetes-related games.” 

Why It’s Hot

Diabetes is an exploding epidemic in this country, affecting children in ever greater numbers.  Jerry the Bear is a great education tool to make kids more aware of their disease and how to manage it in a fun and entertaining way that will probably motivate them more.  His appeal has been noticed in healthcare circles, and he has even made an appearance at the White House

Bionic Pancreas Uses Smartphone to Help Diabetes Patients

A ‘bionic pancreas‘ was created by researchers from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital in an effort to help diabetes patients easily control their blood sugar levels. The device consists of a smartphone hardwired to a continuous glucose monitor and two pumps that deliver insulin or glucagon every five minutes (as is pictured below).

As NBC News explains, the “device monitors blood sugar — standing in for the fingerprick test that people with diabetes must do many times a day. It delivers insulin when needed and in the right amounts — something diabetics must do several times a day either with a syringe or by pressing a button on an insulin pump.”

According to research, the system controlled patient blood sugar levels far better than the patients could have done on their own. Patients who tested the bionic pancreas loved the technology because it gave them a better quality of life, without having to regularly check their blood sugar or prohibit activity due to low blood sugar.

Read more on the device via NBC News.

Why It’s Hot | This is yet another example of how using smartphone technology (beyond enhancing social connections) to help better people’s health could provide new access to care for those less fortunate, and perhaps even enhance their quality of life in a way that was previously unimaginable.

As doctors who developed this bionic pancreas system explained, it is incredibly difficult for people living with diabetes to control their blood glucose as well as it should be, which puts patients in constant risk of severe consequences. Now, people all over the world, even those living in areas without comprehensive medical care, might be able to better manage their health.

As one patient said of the bionic pancreas, “It is like a dream for a diabetic. It takes away the responsibility. It takes away the high blood sugar and the low blood sugar. It prevents damage to the body and it makes you feel better all the time.”

Google Contact Lenses To Test Glucose Levels

Google has announced a project to make a smart contact lens. But this gadget isn’t going to be used to deliver your e-mail straight into your skull — at least not yet. The project is working to tackle one of the biggest health problems facing the country today: diabetes.  The contacts will be able to measure glucose levels in a wearer’s tears,.  The lens also features a tiny antenna, capacitor and controller so that the information gathered from the lens can move from the eye to a device — such as a handheld monitor — where that data can be read and analyzed.

Read More and Watch a Video Here.

Why It’s Hot

This could be a completely new way for diabetes sufferers to measure glucose levels. Instead of diabetics having to prick themselves daily to test their blood, this offers a painless solution to testing sugar levels and maintaining their health.