A growing predilection for Western fast food and a sedentary lifestyle has left India in the grips of an obesity epidemic.
This has led to another health problem – a dramatic rise of diabetes. Along with worrying dietary and lifestyle patterns, Indians have been found to have a genetic predisposition for this incurable metabolic disorder. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease now affects more than 65 million people in the country.
Lack of access to proper medical care in India is one of the greatest challenges when it comes to managing diabetes. Those living in rural areas often have to travel for hours to reach a clinic, while the low doctor-patient ratio means that wait times are long.
Fortunately, India’s recent increase in economic wealth means that more people are better connected. With smartphone use in India currently at around 220 million, it also makes sense to combine technology with illness management.
Several apps created by tech companies now allow diabetic patients proactively take control of their disorder.
Building An App for Diabetic Patients: Raghuraj’s Journey
While researching his own diagnosis of hyperglycaemia, former business development manager Raghuraj Sunder Raju realised that diabetes is one of the most prevalent non-communicable diseases in India.
Determined to make a difference, the Bangalore-based entrepreneur walked away from his corporate job. “For me, this change was very personal. I dug deeper and found that there were some tools for managing diabetes and hyperglycaemia but none that could really be relied on,” he explained. “I left the comfort of a multinational company because I felt like it was my true calling to really do something. This was a problem I could relate to, and solving it would help a large section of society.”
Raghuraj gathered a team together and self-funded the development of the app HealthPlix. Originally released in 2014, this smartphone app gives patients an easy medium to track their diets, blood sugar levels and blood pressure. It also allows diabetic patients easily send real-time blood sugar data to their doctors, who are then able to determine the extent of a patient’s insulin deficiency and prescribe proper medication.
“In the past, diabetic patients had to go through multiple follow-ups with their doctors in order to formulate the right treatment plan,” said Raghuraj. “While the dosage is being fine-tuned, they are at a higher risk of the negative implications of diabetes. By using HealthPlix, the data entered by patients is shared directly with their doctors. There is a better outcome in less time.”
HealthPlix also diminishes the need for time-consuming doctor’s appointments by allowing patients to receive progress reviews in the comfort of their own homes. Raghuraj says that the app has received positive feedback from medical experts as well as diabetic patients. “One doctor even reported to me that he was able to prevent a patient from being admitted to the hospital, thanks to data he had received from the app.”
Managing Diabetes: A Concerned Son Builds His Own Solution
Meanwhile, for Mumbai’s Shreekant Pawar, seeing his parents struggle to manage their diabetes on a daily basis inspired him to combine his pharmaceutical, foreign trade and business training to develop Diabeto. This app is similar to HealthPlix, in that users are able to track and record their food intake, activity and insulin levels. Diabeto also comprises of a small piece of bluetooth powered hardware that transmits glucometer readings directly to the app. Soon to be released, this clever device will enable doctors and caregivers to access accurate patient statistics in real time.
“I’ve watched my parents struggle with this disease for 25 years,” says Shreekant, “Without a cure, the only option for sufferers is self-management. My co-founder and I saw that continuous glucose monitors were available but found that they were very expensive. We wanted to come up with a better option that would give diabetics the solution they have been looking for.”
And there have been plenty of people looking for this kind of solution. Doctors in Spain, the UK, Ireland and other parts of Europe are ready and waiting to road test Diabeto’s new hardware. Shreekant has also been in discussions with Britain’s National Health System to introduce Diabeto and the corresponding hardware. There are further plans to widen the reach to Europe, once the Diabeto team is able to prove that the app is accurate and reliable for use by official health departments.
Solving the Problem of Diabetes
Experts in the subject of non-communicable diseases admit that even for first-world countries, diabetes is a huge problem. Solving it requires a multifaceted approach from government, drug companies and even patients themselves.
For developers like Raghuraj and Shreekant, the motivation is to help first, earn later. Both apps are currently free for patients to download, despite neither party having received local government funding to create them. “Our goal,” explained Shreekant, “is to reach the largest amount of people in the smallest amount of time.”
The actions of these two innovators are harnessing technology for the best reasons. Both are improving the management of diabetes for patients as well as doctors. They also have the potential to ease the burden of diabetes on medical systems in India and, in the future, around the world.