COVID-19 containment measures saw a rise in the number of people with diabetes using cloud-based glucose monitoring technology to stay connected with doctors whilst at home.

Adoption of cloud-based glucose data management platforms grew more than 100 percent for some health technology companies during the COVID-19 lockdown.

There are over 250,000 people living with diabetes in New Zealand and 10 percent of these people live with type 1 diabetes.[1]

Diabetes is a life-long condition which requires regular consultations with doctors. Flash Glucose Monitoring and cloud-based data sharing help people with the condition stay connected with their healthcare team, which was important during New Zealand’s strict stage 4 lockdown period.

Dunedin-based paediatric endocrinologist Associate Professor Ben Wheeler welcomes cloud-based data sharing for diabetes: “It gives much more opportunity for patients to be active participants in their care, even from a distance. By being able to share their data so easily, the clinic continues almost as if there’s no disruption at all.

“If you can’t see data, you can’t help people achieve better health outcomes.”

Glucose monitoring is an essential part of diabetes management. The FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring system enables people with diabetes to monitor their glucose level by hovering a smartphone over a small sensor on the back of their arm. This technology replaces the traditional finger pricking method.

The FreeStyle LibreLink smartphone app collects the reading, and automatically uploads it to a cloud-based platform, LibreView, that healthcare professionals can securely access to review their patients’ glucose data.

The lockdown was an opportunity for people with diabetes to educate themselves about the technology to monitor their glucose levels.

Associate Professor Wheeler said: “By having that extra time, I think there were people who engaged further. And hopefully they’re hooked now, and they’ll keep using the technology.

“I have no doubt in 10 or 20 years, I’ll be giving lectures to my medical students about how we used to finger prick, and they’ll be shocked at the reality of it.

“These devices offer the opportunity for more engagement and less burden. They [patients] need to understand how powerful that data is. So, I think there’s a silver lining that COVID will have helped with that.”

Fifteen-year-old Marcus Sorenson from Timaru lives with type 1 diabetes and uses FreeStyle Libre to monitor his glucose levels.

Marcus’ mother, Nicola Sorenson, said of FreeStyle Libre: “The Libre’s been a turning point for him [Marcus] since he started high school. He didn’t like pricking his finger in front of his peers. I think they’re life-changing for diabetics.

“Diabetes, to me, is like throwing a dart at a dartboard some days, you don’t know how it’s going to be.”

Noeline Wedlock, Branch Manager at Diabetes NZ Otago, said: “As people become more comfortable with the technology and you have GP practices and District Health Boards supporting people and using this technology, it will be more and more a part of their diabetes management.”

It currently costs people with diabetes NZ$2,400 to use Flash Glucose Monitoring each year, as it is not subsidised in New Zealand. In Australia, the device is fully reimbursed for eligible people such as those with type 1 diabetes who have concessional status, who are under the age of 21, or are managing pregnancy.

Wedlock gave the health consumer organisation perspective on access to Flash Glucose Monitoring: “Most people would say it [FreeStyle Libre] is simply life changing and could not imagine being without it.

“The only downside would be the cost which for a lot of people is prohibitive. We are constantly being asked if or when it might be funded. It should be available to everyone.”

Sorenson said: “I think it [FreeStyle Libre] should be available to everybody who is pricking their finger. It would save the health system millions of dollars in the long run.”

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