An Apple Watch app is coming for people with diabetes

Medical device maker Dexcom has been showing off iPhone and Apple Watch integration for its implantable diabetes glucose monitors for the past few weeks. The app will display glucose readings on iOS devices and should be ready when Apple Watch is launched in April, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Dexcom Apple Watch app, medical device experts say, is made possible by recent Food and Drug Administration policy changes that suggest the federal agency will only regulate medical hardware, and not the apps that connect it to consumer platforms like iOS and Android. The exact scenario of glucose monitoring for people with diabetes was discussed when Apple quietly met with FDA officials to discuss the possibility of Apple Watch triggering federal regulation.

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People with diabetes and their loved ones want the kind of features that Dexcom’s iOS app promises. In fact, Dexcom’s app was preceded by NightScout, a open-source, not-for-profit, and unregulated set of tools created as a labor of love by software engineers around the world. NightScout takes readings from Dexcom glucose monitors, uploads them to the internet, and can display them on devices like the Pebble smartwatch.

Dexcom’s demos have only shown its Apple Watch app displaying glucose readings. There might be other features included, including alarms and calibration, but those haven’t been revealed yet.

The opportunity for Apple and device makers like Dexcom in mobile health is huge. Credit Suisse estimates there are 400 million people worldwide with Type II diabetes, with associated costs totaling up to $376 billion per year. If hospitals and patients are already spending thousands of dollars a year managing the condition, and a $350 Apple Watch and $650 iPhone can make their lives markedly better, then it becomes an easy purchase. If doctors start choosing devices based on whether they work with iOS, that could prompt other manufacturers to support iOS and HealthKit, which would lead to more health-conscious consumers choosing Apple.

Dexcom’s glucose monitors come in the form of a wearable patch called a continuous glucose monitor. Currently, diabetes patients need to carry around a pager-like device to read glucose levels, but the new apps will allow users to ditch the glucose sensor reader for the smartphone they already likely carry.

Apple HealthKit is already finding a home in U.S. hospitals

HealthKit might not get as much attention as, say, Apple Watch, but it could end up being more important to Apple’s bottom line in the future. According to a new report in Reuters, the healthcare establishment and hospitals have already started to incorporate HealthKit into their healthcare services: 14 of the 23 hospitals Reuters got in touch with said they had already started pilot programs with HealthKit, or were planning to start one.

The HealthKit service is preinstalled on all iPhones running iOS 8, and essentially works as a data repository. Information from step trackers, connected scales, smart blood pressure monitors and other medical gadgets can be fed into HealthKit. Apple’s software then organizes that data and displays it in a useful way on an iOS device in the Health app. According to Reuters, that information can, with the patient’s permission, be exported directly into the kinds of electronic medical records that doctors use. If the FDA was to decide to regulate HealthKit as a medical device, something that Apple has worried about, it would likely be the export-to-doctors function that would come under scrutiny.

One story in the report surrounds a New Orleans hospital which is treating high-risk patients with blood pressure issues by remotely monitoring them and providing doctors with regular readings automatically sent through HealthKit.

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As Reuters points out, the American healthcare market is worth over $3 trillion per year, a figure big enough to pique Apple’s interest despite the fact it registered $18 billion in profit last quarter. As America gets older, if the iPhone (or the Apple Watch) becomes the device your doctor says works best with your health regimen, that’s a powerful reason for a consumer to choose an Apple device. But Apple doesn’t have the mobile healthcare market to itself: Google has developed similar software, Google Fit, and Samsung is taking health seriously, too. In the next few years, these three major smartphone companies will jockey to get their software into hospitals and doctors’ hands.