Mobile Healthcare Innovations – Part Three


In this final installment of our series on Mobile Healthcare Innovations, we look at the mechanical, electrical, and wireless innovations in a tubing-free, personal insulin pump for treating diabetes.


In Part One and Part Two of this article, we discussed Sana, a volunteer organization that has created an open source, end-to-end telehealth system; and Healthrageous, a personal healthcare system with mobile and social networking components. Here in Part Three, we look at the OmniPod® Insulin Management System, a tubing-free, wirelessly connected, wearable insulin pump.

Living with Type 1 Diabetes

An estimated 1 million – 2 million people in the U.S., and well over 10 million worldwide, suffer from type 1 diabetes.Type 1 diabetes — also known as juvenile diabetes, since it usually starts in childhood — is fatal unless treated with insulin. Prior to 1921 when insulin was discovered, all people with type 1 diabetes died within a few years after the appearance of the disease.

Source: Image by Sjö, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thankfully today insulin is readily available, at least in developed countries, and most people who have type 1 diabetes are otherwise normally healthy. The most common method of taking insulin in the United States is self-injection using a syringe. There are also a number of portable insulin pumps on the market.Most of these are small devices (about the size of an MP3 player, see Figure 1) that use tubing running from the device to the patient, to deliver insulin at an infusion site.. The insulin is typically delivered from the pump through a hollow plastic tube called a “cannula” — a stainless steel or flexible Teflon tube placed just below the skin.

Tubeless Insulin Pump

At the MIT Enterprise Forum event on Mobile healthcare, Robert Campbell, the Vice President of Clinical Services and Research at Insulet Corporation, talked about the OmniPod Insulin Management System that they introduced in 2005. The OmniPod System consists of a handheld device called a Personal Diabetes Manager (PDM) that communicates wirelessly with a wearable, very simple-looking Pod.But looks can be deceiving. Inside the Pod, which attaches to the patient using an integrated waterproof adhesive, is an insulin reservoir, an automated insertion mechanism that places the cannula under the skin (virtually pain-free according to Insulet), and a unique pumping mechanism that delivers insulin in 0.05 unit (½ microlitre) pulses. The PDM wirelessly communicates insulin delivery instructions to the Pod and walks the patient through the process step by step. The PDM is also a blood glucose meter.

Source: Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Behind the scenes, a doctor or nurse sets up the device, so that it can deliver the right amount of insulin.In the current version, the patient decides how much they should be taking based on when they have eaten and other factors. According to Campbell, although the current generation OmniPod System is just a delivery device and a point-in-time blood glucose meter, the plan is to integrate it with a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring) sensor so glucose results would be continuously sent wirelessly to the PDM to alert patients when corrective action is required to maintain healthy glucose levels. Campbell pointed out, however, that the path to regulatory approval is quite challenging and time-consuming.

Mobile Health Innovation Making a Difference

More than 20,000 people are using the OmniPod System and millions of pods have been produced. According to Campbell, the next generation will be approximately one third smaller. The device allows all people, including those who are active and athletes with type 1 diabetes, to lead a practically normal life, minimizing the time and effort dealing with their condition and cumbersome technology. It is a good example of how wireless technology and mobile devices, combined with creative thinking and innovative mechanical, software, and electrical engineering, can make a difference in peoples lives.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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