Medtronic, IBM Watson reveal prototype of diabetes app to predict low blood sugar

Omar Ishrak, Medtronic CEO with Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO--Courtesy of Medtronic

Medtronic ($MDT) CEO Omar Ishrak took center stage at Las Vegas' Consumer Electronics Show to reveal a prototype of a smartphone app that could someday predict the onset of dangerously low blood sugar in diabetics up to three hours in advance. It's being developed with the help of pattern recognition analytics from IBM's Watson Health unit.

Annette Brüls, Medtronic's president of global diabetes services and solutions, described the partnership to create "cognitive solutions" for diabetes management, in a blog post, writing, "We took 600 anonymous patient cases and applied cognitive analytics to the data from Medtronic insulin pumps and glucose monitors. And we found that we were able to predict hypoglycemia--extreme low blood sugar--up to three hours in advance of onset--early enough so a person with diabetes could take action to prevent a potentially dangerous health event."

Prototype of blood glucose prediction app--Courtesy of Medtronic

"There's tremendous potential here. By collecting real-time streaming data, combining it with contextual information, and analyzing it for signals and patterns, we at Medtronic believe it may one day be possible to help people make the right decisions at critical moments in their day-to-day lives," she continued.

IBM and Medtronic hope to add more features to the app with the aim or personalizing care, including GPS and wearable activity tracking capability, as well as details from the user's calendar. Bloomberg reports that the companies hope the features extend to include personalized coaching or advice, in the form of a text message telling the patient that low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is likely in the next hour.

The early-stage app (which will almost certainly need to be approved by the FDA) represents Medtronic's journey from a medical device company to a healthcare solutions company, Brüls wrote, adding "it's essential for Medtronic to make this transition because the world's healthcare systems are shifting from payment for services to payment for outcomes."

The transition will likely require Medtronic to partner with other tech titans, which explains why, in a prior interview with the Minneapolis/St. Paul Journal, Ishrak expressed ambivalence about competing with Google (now Alphabet), even though the Silicon Valley titan's partnership with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has put it on a collision course with Medtronic in the robotic surgery arena.

Technology players aren't the only companies showing a sudden in med tech, broadly defined.

Athletic apparel company Under Armour announced a partnership with IBM to create an app powered by Watson for assessing personal factors that affect health and fitness programs.

- read the blog post
- here's Bloomberg's take
- here's a release from Under Armour

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