Can this Pakistani app help battle diabetes? We find out

The app helps patients schedule and monitor glucose levels, store data and make healthy lifestyle choices.
Published January 31, 2019
Every fourth Pakistani over the age of 20 is suffering from diabetes-Shutterstock
Every fourth Pakistani over the age of 20 is suffering from diabetes-Shutterstock

Humans have always shown a proclivity for sweet solutions. But the truth is that sugar, a typically sweet-tasting carbohydrate, can also make life a living nightmare for some.

A survey carried out by the Baqai Institute of Diabetology and Endocrinology (BIDE) and the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) in 2017, revealed that every fourth Pakistani over the age of 20 is suffering from diabetes. Unfortunately, 7pc respondent were not even aware that they are diabetic.

To keep blood glucose levels from worsening, monitoring glucose level in the blood becomes a necessary routine and often a matter of life and death.

This is where local companies like Medworks come into the picture.

What is Medworks?

Medworks is a Pakistani digital healthcare startup
Medworks is a Pakistani digital healthcare startup

Medworks, a digital healthcare startup, aims to harness the power of technology to allow better management of non-communicable diseases. It turns an Android smartphone into a blood glucose measuring device.

The software plus all the data management and analytics are 100% Pakistani.

An external module, Glu-Sage, and its companion app lets you schedule and monitor glucose levels in the blood for diabetic patients. And while the device is quite small, its internal battery is strong and sturdy.

The system then stores the data within smartphones and on to a secure cloud server, from where it can be available to users on demand from any location on any device, using the internet.

The recorded data is vital to make needed changes in lifestyle, meal-plans and physical activities that help a diabetic patient live a healthy life.

Who are the creators?

Faisal Masood, the founder, shares how Medworks came to be. "During my masters in health policy [at London School of Economics and Political Science] a course on behavioural economics got me working on what we call ‘nudges’ in social theory — pushing people towards desirable behaviors by using certain levers like financial incentives, social encouragement, reminders or simplifying their choice set."

For Masood, the aim was to reduce the burden on healthcare providers and also deliver better patient outcomes. For example, if a user gets immediate feedback on how they should respond to a high or low glucose reading, they can take the necessary actions right away. In the long-run, these actions start paying off with regards to glucose control, and subsequently the patient's overall health.

Masood continues, "We are living in a data age, and the breakthroughs in data science are opening new possibilities that were not imaginable a few years ago."

With factors like general awareness, 4G availability, and more smartphone penetration, Medworks hopes to add to its skill-set and partner with companies in the future to offer cutting-edge solutions locally.

Read: 26pc of country’s population has type 2 diabetes: survey

How it works

1. Glu-Sage, the glucose meter

The device is plugged into an Android smartphone to take the readings for glucose level in the blood sample.
The device is plugged into an Android smartphone to take the readings for glucose level in the blood sample.

Glu-Sage is one of the smallest glucose meter available and looks nothing like the existing competition in the market. At a 40 x 30mm dimension, with 9mm thickness, the entire module is smaller than the displays of many conventional glucose meters.

Glu-Sage kit packaging.
Glu-Sage kit packaging.

With a truly impressive and well-designed packaging, the ingenuity of Medworks continues even after revealing the contents of the box, which are:

  • Glucose meter within a plastic container

  • A box of 10 Glucose testing strips

  • 10 lancets (needles) to draw blood for testing

  • Lancing device to go with lancets

  • Travel pouch

  • A must-read user manual that has a 1-year warranty card on its last page

Glu-Sage kit contents.
Glu-Sage kit contents.

Glu-Sage is secured inside a very sturdy, large and well thought-out transparent plastic box. The travel pouch included is perfect for carrying everything in any pocket unnoticed.

However, the transparent container box, that can also be used as a carrying case, is not made to fit in regular pockets.

2. Medworks, the smartphone application

Now, on to the better half, the smartphone application — the heart and soul of Medworks' true ingenuity.

Medworks home screen record button.
Medworks home screen record button.

At its heart, the app is part of the Diabetes Data Management System that enables its users to record the data of blood glucose level, Insulin intakes, medicine doses and exercising periods using a dominant circular button labelled 'record' on the top half of the home screen.

The app is fairly easy to figure out for any smartphone user. But a registration form is the first thing one sees.

The app can detect Glu-Sage as soon as it plugged into a smartphone and further guidance is given through neat illustrations. From there on, the procedure is quite straightforward and simple:

  • Prepare lancet

  • Slide the testing strip into Glu-Sage

  • Draw a drop of blood

  • Apply the blood sample to the sensor on the strip

Medworks testing blood glucose level.
Medworks testing blood glucose level.

The app takes about 10 seconds before displaying the results, and with a tap on the screen time, meal-type, patient's condition and any additional comments are saved automatically into the system.

Commenting on the accuracy of the device, Masood tells, "The strips are the GDH-FAD enzyme, which is cutting-edge in terms of strip accuracy. The device has an internal battery good for 4,000 readings."

However, I strongly advise users to read the manual first; it has useful information.

How the app can help diabetes patients

Here are some of the ways the app overcomes conventional challenges faced by diabetic patients.

1. Reminder notification

Medworks reminder notifications.
Medworks reminder notifications.

Testing for glucose level is often the easier part of entire treatment but organizing the data properly alone can get tiresome, especially when a patient has to do it several times in a day.

Forgetting to attend a diabetic person who is depending on others is a common observation. The Medworks app reminds patients about when to inject insulin, take their medicine and plan their work out.

2. Snapshot report

Medworks snapshot report
Medworks snapshot report

Recorded readings helps a health care professional determine lifestyle adjustments, change in medicines and meal-plans for their diabetic patients.

Data that goes into the Medworks system is simple to view, easy to read and is based on color-coded report formats.

Sharing these reports with health providers is as easy as sending a text message. Doctors can then study these reports without needing to install the Medworks app on their smartphones.

3. Using Medworks without Glu-Sage

Medworks record glucose input
Medworks record glucose input

While the free Medworks app works best with Glu-Sage, it can be just as effective on its own as well.

Glucose results, intake of medicines and even manually entering the names of insulin enables the Medworks app to be used with any existing blood glucose measuring device patients may have been previously using.

Over time, regular app users could eventually decide to use Glu-Sage for its convenience.

4. The competition

Glu-Sage Size
Glu-Sage Size

With a competitive price of Rs2,700 for a complete Medworks kit, there is nothing like this available in the market currently.

However, average consumers will want to compare prices of existing glucose meters instead of basing it on value-added services of the product itself, which are sadly not mentioned on the box.

The device itself is quite small and has an internal battery good for 4,000 readings. The biggest advantage is, of course, the smartphone-element, which at the moment is not being offered in Pakistan by anyone else.

The advantages of using this app are numerous, but are they enough for a diabetic patient to pursue this kit?

Source: Medworks

Verdict: A useful technological initiative

Personally, I found the Medworks kit to be very useful, and everyone I showed it to fully appreciated the system. Still, there is room for improvement.

1. The hassle of registration: Without registration, patients cannot avail the full features of the system. A prompt for instant registration should not be the start of the application. Instead, three to five initial slides should focus on introducing the app, which is standard for mobile apps generally.

2. Chunks of information: The blood glucose report is displayed on the home screen through a line graph. I cannot help wanting to jump to the 'Full Report' view by tapping on the graph. "Please see my Medworks report here" is the message that goes with shared reports. Adding identification with the message will be great help for receptionists to recognize the report type.

3. Remembering to set reminders: To record "My Medicines" or "My Insulin", users are told to 'set reminders' first. A faster approach would be to either have a link that takes users to "Set Reminders" directly, or an option to add names from a list of medicines/insulin directly to "My Medicine/Insulin." Additionally, a list of commonly suggested exercises in "Record Exercise" will help users to know suitable routines and will be easier to record an exercise log.

4. Connecting to the internet: The "Profile", "Guides" and "About" should work offline.

5. Language barrier: For the printed user manual, an Urdu version would be helpful.

6. Connecting with consultants and healthcare providers: What is missing right now is an available diabetes consultant on other side of the Medworks app. In case of emergency, panic-stricken patients or their family members can avoid mistakes and get proper help to handle the situation by getting in touch with the right healthcare provider.

The kit is available in Karachi only. Visit their website for details.

Glu-Sage kit can also be ordered online here.

Medworks App is a free Android application for version 5 and above, available on Play Store here .