People looking to track their health are using medical supplies now—at the expense of the communities that need them
Featured image via “Expanding Care Capacity through Remote Patient App” from APAC News Network
Alongside the rise of Fitbits in the 2010s, people have become more conscious of their vitals and everyday health status. With this attention on health comes things like heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and the common goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day.
This widespread health tracking has even encouraged some to try out Continuous Glucose Monitors, or CGMs, at the expense of the population that CGMs were created for — people with diabetes.
CGMs are small devices that sit mostly on top of the wearer’s skin with a small sensor that goes a few millimeters under their skin. They constantly monitor a person’s blood glucose levels, which fluctuate throughout the day and especially as people eat and exercise. They were created for people with diabetes who have to constantly monitor their blood sugar in order to best manage their disease.
In people with diabetes, their bodies lack the ability to regulate their own blood glucose levels, so diabetics need to continuously monitor and correct their levels manually. In people without diabetes, conversely, their blood sugars are corrected automatically as their bodies perform their natural processes.
One Twitter user, @allfaxo, commented on the use of CGMs in people without diabetes, stating: “[I]f you’re a non-diabetic and have a cgm I’m more worried about your mental health than your physical health tbh.”
And as a person with Type 1 diabetes who has used more than one type of CGM in the past, I’m inclined to agree. I’m unsure of why a person would want to take on this burden. More importantly, I consider it wrong for people without diabetes to use CGMs given the different aspects of life as a diabetic in America.
Jokes about sugar intake and Halloween candy causing diabetes are incessant and based on the misconception that people with diabetes brought their disease on themselves through bad lifestyle habits. In reality, the causes of diabetes are varied and uncertain, with both genetic and environmental factors believed to have an impact. So these “jokes” about diabetics causing their own illness are not only incorrect, they also downplay the disease as not that much of a problem and place the blame of the disease on the diabetic.
If people caused their own diabetes, the reasoning goes, they deserve everything that comes with having diabetes — even things out of their control. In America, where our healthcare system is all but characterized by inaccessibility, this includes diabetics deserving to struggle and die because of lack of access to their medication.
The U.S.’s healthcare system is nowhere near the best and Americans suffer every day because of it — especially people with diabetes, who are often reliant on several prescribed medications and supplies needed to manage their disease and survive. The continuing problem of insulin inaccessibility in America is bad enough, but the problems don’t stop there. CGMs often run for several hundred dollars a month, meaning the devices are simply out of reach for many Americans, insured or not.
As Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief science and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, says regarding access barriers to CGMs: “Lowering payment and other systemic barriers to these devices is urgently needed to allow patients across all income levels, ages and races to manage their diabetes effectively and reduce their risk of preventable complications and even mortality.”
While diabetics are facing these barriers, companies like NutriSense and Veri are selling CGMs, bringing customers in with taglines like “Optimize your daily health performance” and “Get your health back on track.”
By still selling CGMs — for several hundred dollars — these companies misrepresent the financial burden of the device. With the privileged few being able to afford the devices out of pocket, it becomes easy to once again blame diabetics for the lack of access they face and represent CGMs as novelties rather than the important medical devices they are.
Additionally, the argument that having more people getting CGMs, regardless of health status, will saturate the market and bring down costs for diabetics i.e. relating it to “basic supply and demand,” just doesn’t hold weight. People with diabetes are incredibly susceptible to the whims of those in power. This is best exemplified by the cost of insulin, which pharmaceuticals can continually raise, forcing diabetics to pay or die. So that basic principle of supply and demand doesn’t hold as much sway.
New technology should, for the most part, be available to people who want it, and if people want to constantly monitor their blood sugar without the medical need for it, then to each their own. But until people with diabetes, the population that CGMs were developed for, have adequate access to the devices, those without the medical need should avoid using them; whether it’s intentional or not, using CGMs without a medical need ignores the stigma people with diabetes face, perpetuates the inaccessibility of this life-saving device, and misrepresents the financial burden of the device.
The use of CGMs in people without diabetes isn’t terribly widespread just yet. But with the rise of Fitbits, we have seen how people take to products that give them more information about their health.
If the use of CGMs in people without diabetes becomes much more common, it will continue to cause problems for more and more diabetics and what then — what other medical devices can health-conscious people co-opt? What impact will it have on those communities?