- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008

Second of two parts.

For two decades, Lori Fales has lived with Type 2 diabetes. Like others with the disease, the Baltimore County third-grade teacher has struggled to monitor it as religiously as she should, writing down her blood-glucose levels and lifestyle habits in a logbook that she handed to her doctor when they met every three months.

“We tend to stray a bit,” admitted Mrs. Fales, 43. “There are times when you just get tired of writing it all down.”

So when she heard about a University of Maryland study of a new diabetes management system, she knew she wanted to participate. All she needed was her cell phone.

Software from Baltimore-based WellDoc Communications Inc. turns any Web-enabled phone into an interactive diabetes monitoring device.

Mrs. Fales enters her blood-glucose levels along with what she’s eaten and her physical activity that day, and the program gives her real-time feedback - praise for normal readings as well as recommendations on how to improve problematic ones. It also links her information with her doctor, who is able to check the data at any time.

“What it’s caused me to do, quite frankly, is to become more accountable,” Mrs. Fales said. “This has put the numbers right there in my face and put me in the driver’s seat.”

WellDoc is one of several innovators taking advantage of mobile penetration in the country - there are more than 255 million wireless subscribers out of a population of 304 million, according to CTIA Wireless - to tackle perennial health care challenges. Among them: rising costs, a shortage of physicians and chronic conditions that require daily monitoring.

“If you look at the cost of administering clinical trials and bringing drugs to market, wireless technology can cut that exponentially - the cost of moving paper and scans and tracking data around a hospital - all that can be done in a paperless manner. You can keep people out of the hospital and in their home, you can monitor body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, calories,” said Camille Sobrian, president of the Wireless Life Sciences Alliance, a group focused on accelerating the development of mobile health care technology. “The impact is going to be tremendous worldwide.”

Managing disease

Successful disease management is often hampered by a patient’s limited time with the doctor, according to Dr. Suzanne Clough, an endocrinologist and chief medical officer of WellDoc. During her tenure at the University of Maryland’s Joslin Diabetes Center, Dr. Clough saw firsthand how infrequent appointments weren’t doing enough to educate patients.

“We had a first-class setup down there,” she said. “And yet despite that, I was still finding that patients weren’t learning what I expected they would be learning about their disease, really the management of the disease, so that when they were out on their own, they had the tools to do what they need to do. They were relying too much on coming back maybe one or two times a year for 15 minutes to really learn more about the disease.”

But, Dr. Clough said, 90 percent of diabetics are treated by primary-care doctors, who are swamped with cases and have limited time. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that more visits will result in patients keeping better track of their diabetes.

So, she decided to tap into her patients’ wired habits to improve self-monitoring.

“Regardless of socioeconomic status, most people who walk into the clinic had a cell phone,” said Dr. Clough, who co-founded WellDoc in 2005. “The goal of WellDoc is to make this software as ubiquitous as possible and to let people use the device they already use.”

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