Nick Jonas Joins SXSW Panel Discussing the Burden of Diabetes
Five panelists—including singer, songwriter and actor Nick Jonas—discussed increasing access and attaining equal care for the millions of Americans with diabetes during the featured session, "Crushing: The Burden of Diabetes" at the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) in Austin, Texas on March 13.
Much of the conversation focused on the benefits of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM)—small devices worn on the body that allow diabetics to check their blood glucose readings in real-time. CGM manufacturers include Dexcom, Medtronic, Abbott and Senseonics.
By the year 2045, the panel estimates three-quarters of a billion people will have diabetes and up to a trillion dollars will be spent on diabetes globally, adding that in the United States, 1 in 3, or 4, Medicare dollars are spent on diabetes and diabetes-related illness.
Panelist Mireya Martinez, an insulin-dependent diabetic and pastor of Pattison United Methodist Church in Pattison, Texas, spoke about what it was like living with Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of this chronic condition.
"It is a 24/7 thing," she said. "To have the technology in real-time to make decisions without having a huge disruption in the day is really good."
Jonas, who was diagnosed at age 13 with Type 1 diabetes and co-founded Beyond Type 1— an organization that funds diabetes advocacy, education and cure research—in 2015, said his life with diabetes changes every day.
"I wake up every day and the first thing I do is look at my Dexcom app and see where I’m at," Jonas said. "I really try to treat it like it’s not a factor, but I certainly check the app all the time."
He said he has to make decisions in real-time and be as present as he can in both his work and family life.
"There’s always the possibility that my sugar could drop down below 70, and I’m unable to form a sentence," Jonas said. "It’s really just a matter of staying on top of it and recognizing that there is this life-changing technology that has certainly made my journey with the disease much easier and far more manageable."
'It's a game changer!'
The panel’s host, Thomas Grace, M.D., director of Blanchard Valley Diabetes Center in Findlay, Ohio, described a CGM as being similar to a mirror.
"You have to look in all the time when that data is being pushed to you," Grace said. "You’re able to make decisions in real-time that you wouldn’t have been able to adjust to or make in the past. It really has been a game changer."
A CGM is a tiny wearable worn on the surface of the skin, which measures glucose continuously and pushes said information to a mobile phone. It will alert the patient when their glucose goes high or low.
"When we started developing this technology 25 years ago, the goal was to replace finger sticks and create better outcomes for people with diabetes," said Jack Leach, chief operating officer of Dexcom.
"It’s been proven clinically that outcomes are much better using CGM because you have the feedback," Leach said. "It’s so much better than one or two finger sticks a day. The CGM gives you a reading every five minutes, so it really gives people the information they need."
Only in the past five years has access to CGM increased substantially. Recently, Medicare decided to cover CGM for anybody using CGM that’s a Medicare beneficiary. Millions of people have coverage for CGM and don’t know it yet, Leach said.
"That’s the largest single decision for access that we’ve seen in the history of CGM, but that still only opens up CGM to a total of about 5 million people in the United States," he said. About 40 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, although it’s estimated that more than 8 million people have diabetes but are yet to be diagnosed.
People of color have poorer access
Leslie Herod, a Colorado state representative, said she has many family members with diabetes while noting communities of color have poorer access to diabetes care.
"Black and brown people are three to four times more likely to have diabetes and even more likely to have undiagnosed and untreated diabetes," she said.
Herod noted that in Colorado she has fought to ensure there is access to diabetes care and treatment because the long-term impacts are just as insidious.
"For untreated diabetes, you’re more likely to have a heart attack, stroke and other adverse health outcomes, and those are very prevalent in our communities of color," she said.
Herod added that there’s a stigma surrounding diabetes, especially in communities of color. People will assume, "You’re not taking care of yourself" or "You brought it on yourself."
"I think if we stop talking about this whole lifestyle thing like it’s something that we didn’t do right and we are so wrong about, we’ll see better outcomes in the long run," she added.
Technology will continue to improve
As Leach explained to everyone, the biggest unmet need for diabetes is a cure.
"If we had that, we wouldn’t be up here," he said.
Until that day arrives, technology will continue to evolve. Leach said Dexcom is focused on innovation and costs, pointing out that the cost of CGM decreased 50 percent over the past five years.
"We’re going to continue to look at how can make this technology as accessible as possible, and part of that is innovation in how you build products," he said.