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Uncontrolled diabetes can have a major impact on the workplace, driving absenteeism and impaired presenteeism rates, as well as short- and long-term disability, said Sarah Blunden, clinical account manager at Dexcom Canada, during Benefits Canada’s 2021 Tech Insights conference in January.

The disease, which occurs when someone’s blood sugar levels are too high, can cause disorientation, fainting, loss of concentration, fatigue and complications in the long-term, and it can have an impact daily, Blunden said, noting part of the problem is the outdated technology used to monitor glucose levels. The combination of a glucometer with strips and a needle to prick the finger is “painful, so naturally people will avoid doing this. As the saying goes, [if] you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

However, she said Dexcom’s G6 continuous glucose monitoring system is a body-worn sensor that collects data from the user’s interstitial fluid just under the skin, eliminating the need to prick the finger. It continuously measures glucose levels and wirelessly sends the data to a cell phone or smart watch in real time. Users receive 280 readings per day, get alerts if their glucose levels fall outside the healthy range and can choose to receive predictive warnings. They can elect to send the data to family members or health-care providers and can customize their app to include information on their exercise and nutrition habits. The system can also be integrated with telemedicine portals.

In the workplace, the system can help employees quickly address issues with their glucose levels and avoid hospitalization or needing to go home sick. For instance, Blunden described how an engineer, who had an unexpectedly activity-heavy day, while dealing with an unplanned project, would be prompted by the system if his glucose levels dipped into worryingly low territory.

“He can take action right away and prevent a low glucose from happening. If he didn’t receive this alert, he would not be feeling well and would likely have to go home and not finish the project,” she said. “Worst-case scenario, he would lose consciousness and his employer would have to call an ambulance.”

The alerts could be particularly helpful for workers in safety-sensitive industries who live with uncontrolled diabetes, she added. And according to a 2020 report from Mercer, both employees and employers alike are increasingly open to wearable technologies for health-care. The consultancy’s survey of 16,500 workers and 1,300 senior decision-makers across seven countries — including Canada — found wearable technology that helped employees self-manage their health conditions, such as diabetes and heart failure, was the second-most popular digital-health tool for both employees and employers. Indeed, 36 per cent of both groups said they were interested in such technology.

Yet, current health-plan coverage limits access to Dexcom’s product, Blunden pointed out. She called on insurers to transition the product to pharmacy-benefit status, automate prior authorization for plan members on daily insulin and leverage G6’s capabilities and other employee disease-management strategies. “Overall, this will improve member experience and care, . . . [and] improve workplace health, productivity and safety.”