How One Company Is Mining Big Data to Fight Diabetes

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There are 29 million people living with diabetes in the U.S.—more than 9 percent of the population—at an annual cost of $245 billion. Even with an array of devices and drugs available to manage the condition, diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the country.

Rick Altinger, CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Glooko, calls it an unnecessary pandemic. “Properly controlled, with the technology and devices we have today, you can live a healthy life,” he explains. “You don’t need to die from diabetes.”

Managing the disease means careful monitoring of numerous variables, including blood sugar, medication and direct impact of food and exercise. “Today, there are people with Types 1 and 2 diabetes receiving suboptimal care. We don’t need to spend more money caring for them,” Altinger says. “We need to leverage big data and analytics.”

Glooko, founded in 2010, is doing just that, with a diabetes-management platform sold directly to healthcare systems and insurance providers. Patients can use the system to tap into information about their food intake or exercise to make informed decisions; physicians and diabetes counselors can track and analyze a patient’s real-time progress, making them better equipped to adjust prescriptions and instructions.

Patients can access the Glooko mobile app on their smartphones, while healthcare professionals use a kiosk mode to access analytics and create a road map for optimal care. “It’s not about cutting out or replacing the doctor,” Altinger says. “It’s the exact opposite. We want to enable doctors and nurses to be more involved.”

The app has functions such as hypoglycemia monitoring, one of the most expensive aspects of diabetic care. Traditionally, a patient visits an endocrinologist, who pulls up data from the past few months and asks the patient to recount symptoms of a specific diabetic incident. Glooko’s real-time responsive module prompts a user to answer a series of questions to best determine what might have caused an incident and how to avoid a similar situation in the future. Altinger notes that over time, on-the-spot analysis of an incident or pattern can dramatically reduce care costs.

Glooko also sells a proprietary Bluetooth-enabled blood-glucose meter that links to iOS and Android apps. Glooko’s products are cleared by the FDA, and the data collected is encrypted to meet privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. “You don’t want two guys in a garage throwing diabetes software into the app store and have your child or grandfather use it and put themselves at risk,” Altinger points out.

Glooko’s formula offers a sweet deal to investors. In March the company closed a $16.5 million Series B round, bringing its total investment to $28 million.

“Managing diabetes is a high-stakes, long-term proposition for patients and the healthcare system,” explains Wende Hutton, general partner at Menlo Park, Calif.-based Canaan Partners, the lead investor in Glooko’s latest round. She notes that diabetes is a “data-filled” disease that is “ripe for the kind of data-aggregation tools that Glooko can provide.

“No other player has positioned itself in partnership with the diabetes-care suppliers like Glooko has,” Hutton adds. “We found that to be very compelling in offering a comprehensive solution set that could be easily adopted and implemented by the healthcare system.”