Why Smart Pens Are So Smart and Useful

If you missed it, Novo Nordisk announced the pending release of their first  “smart” insulin pen last week. The launch of the NovoPen® 6 and NovoPen Echo® Plus will commence in the first quarter of 2019 and roll out to over 50 countries in the coming years and we are thrilled to be partnering with them to be the digital health aspect of the release.

The insulin pen (versus vial and syringe) first came onto the market in 1985.  The insulin pen makes taking insulin easier for people with diabetes (PWDs) because it doesn’t require the user to go through many arduous steps that vials and syringes do like drawing insulin from a vial, withdrawing the correct amount of insulin units (those markings on the syringe are quite small), having the necessary equipment and proper storage, etc. The pen is easy to use and is at the ready for a quick injection so the user can get on with their busy life. It is also much easier to store while on the go.

The advantages of pens over syringes have been confirmed in numerous studies and include greater accuracy, ease of use, patient satisfaction, and quality of life which can enhance adherence. And for people with type 2 diabetes (T2D), pens can play an important role in helping them to live with and manage their diabetes.

There have been many improvements to the insulin pen since it was brought to the market 38 years ago, but now the insulin pen is smart. These new smart pens, in addition to Novo Nordisk, are also being, or will be distributed by Eli Lilly,  Common Sensing and Companion Medical. And we know that other players have their version in the works. So what makes them so smart?

Smart pens are designed to transmit data from the pen to the cloud relatively seamlessly, meaning once a connection is set-up with a mobile device, they transmit data any time the pen is used and is near the mobile device. For Glooko, we receive the data either via NFC (near field communication) or secure Bluetooth. The data we get includes time of day, day of week, the amount of insulin delivered, type of insulin, and more. We are then able to correlate that data with glucose data so that the person with diabetes and the clinician can see the impact of the insulin. They can also start to see patterns that can help them make daily decisions.

Below is our enumeration of ways the smart pen can be extremely useful.

  • Provide digital memory: I often take a pill in the morning and then 15 minutes later can’t remember if I took it. With a smart pen, the data of what you took and when is captured, visualized and available at your fingertips whenever you want to know. And with insulin, this is critical because for both long-acting and meal-time insulin, PWDs will often take different doses. Having a tool to be your memory for what you took, when and under what conditions (e.g., after which meal) can be a huge help.
  • Track insulin amounts: Beyond just knowing if you took it, it is important to understand how much insulin you need and how much you have taken both for prescription adherence and reordering purposes and to determine if you are on the right concentration and dose. In addition, understanding what drives how much insulin you take can be critical to both helping you self-manage and also helping your care team support you in exercise, diet and other decisions that go hand-in-hand with your insulin dose.
  • See trends and patterns: Is it working? Many people who I speak to with type 2 diabetes know that insulin is critical for their well-being, but often have a hard time knowing if over time, the insulin, beyond daily regulation of blood glucose levels, is working. Smart pen data, combined with glucose and lifestyle data (like what is shown in Glooko’s patterns and reporting views) can show the user over time if their overall insulin amount is increasing or decreasing and can show insulin data alongside trends in glucose reading levels. Understanding this can help a user understand if they are gaining better control of their glycemic swings and can help them to pinpoint what is working and what is not.
  • Optimize dosing: Tracking doses and correlating them with glucose can help both individuals and clinicians determine what dosing levels are needed, if doses need to be increased, decreased or the timing should be different. For example, seeing the impact of a night time dose on overnight and fasting glucose levels can help a clinician determine if they should recommend a change in the time of the dose, i.e. having the patient take their long acting insulin in the am versus before bedtime.

We at Glooko are thrilled to be working with the companies out there making this next generation of insulin pens. They are smart, convenient and will have an impact in helping people with T2D and their care teams manage diabetes!

Robin Beadle