Diabetes: a poster child for the EU digital health agenda

By International Diabetes Federation Europe

Digitalisation is transforming diabetes care, more and faster than any other therapeutic area. Diabetes showcases the promises of digital health for chronic diseases and unfolds the full potential of data. Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven solutions are now opening the way for personalised diabetes care and precision medicine. 

One hundred years after the discovery of insulin, there is still much to be done to improve the lives of the 32 million people living with diabetes (PwD) in the European Union. If access to insulin remains an issue in many low-income countries (LICs), in most of Europe, the challenge today for PwD is more about achieving optimal levels of blood glucose, preventing Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) and preventing/delaying diabetes-related complications that heavily affect their quality of life. Diabetes also puts a substantial economic burden on health budgets – estimated at about 9% of EU health expenditure in 2019.  

How digitalization is transforming all aspects of diabetes care

Diabetes digital therapeutics, including connected devices, digital applications, and algorithms are transforming all aspects of diabetes care at a rapid pace.  

Connected devices such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), automated insulin delivery (AID) devices (also called artificial pancreas systems) and smart pens have shown to improve clinical outcomes such as lowered HbA1c (that determines the average blood sugar levels over a period of three months) and improved time in range (the amount of time PwD spend with their blood glucose levels in a recommended target range). They also tend to reduce the psychological burden of managing this lifelong condition that requires 24/7 management.

Digital applications and connected health technologies offer many opportunities for PwD and their healthcare providers (HCPs). They have the potential, for example, to support PwD track their physical activity, plan their meals and insulin doses and log glucose data. Both people living with diabetes and their HCPs can interact with the data, in real-time and retrospectively. The data can be graphically displayed and help find patterns in glucose readings and generate insights to identify areas of improvement and improve self-management.

AI is a game-changer

The real game-changer, unlocking the value of recent technological advances, is AI. AI is increasingly used to support the prevention of T2D and diabetes-related complications through predictive population risk stratification models. It is also widely used for diagnostic purposes, for example for retinopathy screening, and it is key to improving self-management, personalising treatment and advancing precision medicine.

To deliver on the digital promises, health policies need to engage people with diabetes at all levels, improve health literacy and digital skills and promote equitable access to diabetes technologies. To harness the power of data, interoperability, digital standards and a common set of indicators are required to overcome the fragmentation of national approaches. Regulatory frameworks for the use, re-use and exchange of health data across member states need to be put in place, including rules relating to PwD’s access to, and control of, their data. Strong PwD involvement in addressing ethical questions will ensure that any gaps in trust will be bridged. 

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA. 

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