Health monitoring through wearables is coming to the United Kingdom in a huge way: every UK resident with Type 1 diabetes is eligible to receive a flash glucose monitor from the National Health Service (NHS). This high-tech diabetes initiative meets a pressing need, as around 7% of the UK population live with diabetes, and the NHS says it puts around 10% of its entire budget (£10 billion, or over $13 billion) toward care for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
They’re already off to a good start; thus far, the NHS says its Long Term Plan has helped about three in five patients with Type 1 diabetes get the monitors. The wearable device that the NHS disperses is a circular sensor that’s slightly larger than a U.S. quarter that sits on the arm and checks a person’s glucose with a scan that takes about one second. That reading wirelessly connects to an app on a smartphone, where it is correlated with previous readings to give users their current glucose level, their past levels, and the pattern over time.
While offering no-cost glucose monitors to the masses may seem like an expensive proposal in the short term, the NHS sees it as a money-saving tactic in the long run. Professor Partha Kar, an NHS advisor, explains, “These monitors are a win-win — they support diabetes patients to live healthier lives, reduce their risk of hospitalization while also helping to reduce pressure on NHS services and provide better value for money for taxpayers.”
This mass rollout of wearables is part of the NHS’s greater Diabetes Prevention Programme, which puts heavy focus on Type 2 diabetes. According to the NHS, about two million people in England are highly likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and therefore run higher risks of having strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure. But unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices. Here again, the NHS relies on digital tools, employing wearable tech that monitors exercise levels, as well as apps to connect users with health coaches and online support groups.
As the United Kingdom has long been a leader in public health, forming the NHS back in 1948. We should see countries follow their lead with wearables, bringing greater levels of healthcare to greater numbers.