We’re both honored and excited to be one of five finalists in the Alexa Diabetes Challenge. We’re honored to be in such great company, and excited about the novel device our team is building. You may wonder how a team of software folks ends up with an entry with a hardware component. We did too, until we thought more about the convergence happening in technology.
We were early fans of the power of voice, and we previewed a prototype of Alexa integration with Wellpepper digital treatment plans for total joint replacement at HIMSS in February 2017. Voice is a great interface for people who are mobility or vision challenged, and the design of Amazon Echo makes it an unobtrusive home device. While a mobile treatment plan is always with you, the Amazon Echo is central in the home. At one point, we thought television would be the next logical screen to support patients with their home treatment plans, but it seems like the Echo Show is going to be more powerful and still quite accessible to a large number of people.
Since our platform supports all types of patient interventions, including diabetes, this challenge was a natural fit for our team, which is made up of Wellpepper staff and Dr Soma Mandal, who joined us this spring for a rotation from the University of Georgia. However, when we brainstormed 20 possible ideas for the challenge (admittedly over beer at Fremont Brewing), the two that rose to the top involved hardware solutions in addition to voice interactions with a treatment plan. And that’s how we found ourselves with Sugarpod by Wellpepper which includes a comprehensive diabetes care plan for someone newly diagnosed, and a novel Alexa-enabled device to check for foot problems, a common complication of diabetes mellitus.
Currently in healthcare, there are some big efforts to connect device data to the EMR. While we think device data is extremely interesting, connecting it directly to the EMR is missing a key component: what’s actually happening with the patient. Having real-time device data without real-time patient experience as well, is only solving one piece of the puzzle. Patients don’t think about the devices to manage their health – whether glucometer, blood pressure monitor, or foot scanner – separately from their entire care plan. In fact, looking at both together, and understanding the interplay between their actions, and the readings from these devices, is key for patient self-management.
And that’s how we found ourselves, a mostly SaaS company, entering a challenge with a device. It’s not the first time we’ve thought about how to better integrate devices with our care plans, but is the first time we’ve gone as far as prototyping one ourselves, which got us wondering which way the market will go. It doesn’t make sense for every device to have their own corresponding app. That app is not integrated with the physician’s instructions or the rest of the patient’s care plan. It may not be feasible for every interactive treatment plan to integrate with every device, so are vertically integrated solutions the future? If you look at the bets that Google and Apple are making in this space, you might say yes. It will be fascinating to see where this Alexa challenge takes Amazon, and us too.
We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us before the final pitch on September 25th in New York. If you’re interested in our progress, subscribe to our Wellpepper newsletter, and we’ll have a few updates. If you’re interested in this overall hardware and software solution for Type 2 diabetes care, either for deploying in your organization or bringing a new device to market, please get in touch.