Around the world there are about 463 million people living with diabetes. By 2045, projections show that it’s likely this number will rise to about 700 million diabetics, making it one of the most concerning epidemics of our time.

But there’s a bigger problem than diabetes—prediabetes, affecting 34.5% of the US adult population (as compared to 10.5% with diabetes), and there’s a likely and significant opportunity for tech to tackle this, with benefits to people and to society.

One solution will be cracking the code on non-invasive blood glucose monitoring (without a continuous glucose monitor). 

Why does this matter? Because people who aren’t proactively engaged in their health (and who don’t even have a diagnosis) aren’t going to be regularly pricking themselves. Neither will they use a conventional CGM, or even some of the more cutting-edge approaches that are bubbling under, like implantables or other novel closed-loop systems.

The key will be to focus on non-invasive monitoring, a goal that’s getting ever closer. For example, a recent study engineered a digital biomarker via a smartwatch and a food log.

And given their well-documented ambitions in the area, we’d be remiss in failing to consider what plans Apple may have. After all, Tim Cook is on record saying that health will be the company’s “Greatest contribution to mankind,” and the Apple brand is nothing if not simpatico with clinical values of privacy, cleanliness and data driven-effectiveness. 

The Series 7 Watch was expected to feature non-invasive glucose monitoring via an optical sensor, much like they’ve approached heart rate through photoplethysmography. Yet it didn’t launch. Yet. 

It’s probably a safe bet to say that right now it’s a “when,” not an “if,” for this to be a reality. And as we’ve seen with Apple’s impact on heart rate monitoring and conditions like atrial fibrillation, the tech giant’s big health play may be less focused on the parts of the lifetime healthcare journey that happen after diagnosis (pharma’s traditional heartland), and more oriented to prevention and wellness via earlier detection.

Because let’s face it, real healthcare journeys don’t start with symptoms and diagnosis—they start in our normal, healthy, day-to-day lives. And they’re going to start for our children the day that they get their first wearable for a birthday gift.

Here are four things type-2 players should do to prepare for this shift:

1. Know that context matters. Invest in understanding the entire lifestyle context surrounding people before they become patients. 

What nutritional habits do they have? What does their community of support look like? What environmental cues can help or hurt their progress? Design a holistic wellness program to complement the right-fit therapy and the individual context that will make them successful. 

2. Consider a partnership lens. Look for opportunities to team up with other brands and organizations that can help to better support a health journey that’s as dynamic as the patient is. 

Who could you turn to help them feel more supported? What current tech groups or companies have an existing infrastructure or tools that you could leverage? Think about how these potential partnerships can help give patients access to new data sets that will help tailor their experience at every turn. 

3. Create a frictionless patient experience. Help make the onboarding process to type-2 diabetes feel as seamless as possible. Remember: while they weren’t aware of it, patients have been sick for a while which can make adjusting to a new health journey feel overwhelming. 

What new routines will they have to adopt? What new vocabulary or tools will they have to learn? What aspects of their journey will change the course of life as they once knew it? Focus on pinpointing and removing the frictions that patients will consider to be the most painful.

4. Aspire to Apple’s standards. Odds are you won’t deliver on it, but you need to know where the bar sits, so aim as high as you can. 

For people who’ve been tracking their health via an ecosystem like Apple’s in the wellness stages of their lifetime healthcare journey, passing through the gate of diagnosis and into the current ecosystem of pharma’s current health-tech efforts is liable to feel like being chauffeured for years in the back of a Tesla, only to be kicked out at the foot of a mountain and being told to climb it on your own.

About the Author:

Duncan works on our European Innovation team. He’s worked in digital for the last 20 years, healthcare for the last ten, and for Syneos Health Communications since 2012.