Part 2 of 3

Interrupting the Cycle of Diabetes

IBM Watson and Medtronic will transform diabetes management

San Antonio, Texas, has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the country. Elisa Escobar, a San Antonio resident, was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 20, and went 24 years without a real plan for managing her disease — which is the unfortunate truth for many like her. The average diabetes patient sees their doctor for 10 minutes every 90 days, not nearly enough for a disease that requires daily monitoring to be controlled effectively. Since patients are almost entirely on their own when it comes to managing diabetes, they often don’t receive the care they need until it’s too late, resulting in serious complications and costly visits to the hospital.

Necessary Interventions

By the time Elisa turned 44, her weight had crept up over 300 pounds, she regularly experienced the lethargy and depression that accompanies diabetes, and her A1C level was 12%. (A1C is a measure of a person’s average level of blood glucose, also called blood sugar, over 3 months. The target A1C for people with diabetes is 7%.) Even though she once risked losing her foot to a diabetes-related ulcer, it wasn’t until Elisa’s doctor intervened and told her she risked blindness and organ damage that she finally took action.

I almost lost my right foot, and that was the only time for 3 months that I controlled [my diabetes]. Once I healed, I went right back to abusing my body.

There Is No Single Solution

In November of 2015, Elisa’s doctor suggested she try the Medtronic Turning Point program. Once a patient is identified for the pilot program, they’re given a smartphone with the Medtronic Turning Point App, which the patient uses to upload their health data and communicate with a Health Partner who crafts a daily customized care plan based on the information. For Elisa, the program has been life changing. After just six months in the program, she has lost more than 30 lbs. and her A1C has dropped to 6.5%, a remarkable improvement.

By providing personalized care recommendations, the Medtronic Turning Point program Health Partners can help patients reduce A1C levels through daily lifestyle and adherence monitoring, which can reduce the risk of many other preventable complications. For instance, a 1% decrease in A1C reduces a patient’s risk of heart attack by 14%, and amputation or peripheral vascular disease by 43%. This can drastically reduce provider costs-per-patient while increasing healthy outcomes of diabetes patients like Elisa.

IBM Watson is working with Medtronic to enhance the solution used by Elisa by developing a new generation of personalized diabetes care management tools. IBM can apply cognitive computing to patient data to help identify individuals at high-risk for hospital readmission due to diabetes. Using the resulting cognitive insights, Medtronic can provide an integrated and personalized care program to healthcare systems, to assist people with diabetes and help reduce cost of care.

Disrupting A Lifestyle

The biggest change the program has inspired is to Elisa’s diet. Before the program, Elisa ate indiscriminately, enjoying a lot of fried food, candy and pasta. The program has taught her how to read labels, control portions and eat healthy, well-balanced meals. This new lifestyle has inspired Elisa to be more active, she’s happier, more social and she gives all the credit for her new found discipline to the program.

And it’s not just Elisa who’s benefited. Her entire family is eating healthier and seeing the results. This includes Elisa’s mother, who also has diabetes and was unable to undergo a necessary surgical procedure because her elevated A1C levels posed too great a risk for infection. By following her daughter’s lead, Elisa’s mother dropped 20 lbs. in a matter of months, and lowered her A1C to a level safe enough for surgery.

It’s understandable that Elisa gets emotional when she talks about the program. It’s not only given her a new lease on life, but an entirely new outlook. Elisa realizes now that diabetes is not a part of her culture, and she’s built a new community around her that’s focused on health and happiness: “I will forever be indebted to these people. It’s because of them I’ve added years to my life.”