Apple Watch app will track glucose levels for diabetics

Already approved by the FDA, the app is slated to debut in April to help diabetics make sure their blood sugar levels don't go too high or too low.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
The Apple Watch will offer an app to track glucose levels for diabetics. James Martin/CNET

Apple Watch wearers with diabetes will be able to use an app to monitor their glucose levels.

Designed by medical products maker DexCom, the app will track and display your glucose levels on your watch in the form of a graph, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The goal is to help diabetics easily and quickly read their glucose, or blood sugar, levels by simply glancing at the app.

To use with the Apple Watch, DexCom's glucose monitor will take the form of a body sensor that you wear around your abdomen. That body sensor measures your glucose levels every five minutes and sends the data to a remote handheld device within 20 feet. That device then communicates with the iPhone, which then sends the data to be displayed on the Apple Watch. The advantage is that you can see the data on your watch without having to check either your iPhone or DexCom's remote handheld device.

The app itself is expected to be available in April, the same time the Apple Watch itself will reach consumers. DexCom actually offers two different apps as part of the process -- one app that lets the user view the data and another app that can share the data with another person, such as a doctor who may need to monitor the person's glucose levels.

One of the major selling points behind the Apple Watch is that it will function both as a smartwatch and as a health and fitness tracker. But one of the challenges is that certain health devices and apps require regulatory approval. Previously, the Food and Drug Administration considered glucose-related software to be Class III, which meant they required the highest level of regulatory approval. But the FDA has since revised its guidelines. DexCom's monitors will remain Class III devices since they connect directly to a person's body. But apps that simply display data on mobile devices fall into Class II, which don't need prior approval, though they still need to be registered with the agency and follow certain controls.

Such a change in the regulations benefits both Apple and third-party developers as more health-related apps can be created for the Apple Watch without requiring strict regulatory approval. At this point, the app is designed only for the Apple Watch and will not support other smartwatches.

The FDA loosened the reins on its requirements over certain health-related apps after a group of software developers created NightScout, a system that can monitor glucose levels over the Internet, the Journal said. The engineers had been frustrated with the slow pace of approval over such apps. NightScout gives parents, doctors and caregivers the ability to remotely view the data collected on individual diabetes patients.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body lacks the ability to convert blood sugar into energy. The continuous tracking of glucose levels is vital for diabetics, especially those with Type 1 diabetes. If their levels rise too high or drop too low, Type 1 diabetics run the risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and other serious medical problems.

Apple declined to respond to CNET's request for comment.

Updated 10:30 a.m. PT: Added more details about DexCom's glucose monitor.