Category 2 Winner Joyce Vergili
Blood Potassium Monitor
People with chronic kidney disease (CKD), including those on maintenance hemodialysis (MHD), have no knowledge of their serum potassium levels except when blood test results are shared with them by their dietitian or physician. For those undergoing MHD, dietitians typically share serum potassium results with patients once a month during "Report Card" review. The problem with this is the fact that potassium level as resulted on the Report Card represents only one specific point in time – at point in time that is at least 48 hours, if not a week (or more) in the past. Serum potassium levels can (and often do) vary widely over the course of the month; therefore, the serum potassium level as displayed on the Report Card is of limited utility for patients who would like to attain and maintain serum potassium levels within a safe range. Serum potassium may reach dangerously high, even life-threatening, levels over the course of the month. How would the person know if his/her life was in danger due to hyperkalemia? The symptoms are non-specific (e.g., muscle weakness, paresthesias, arrhythmias); therefore, they can easily be mistaken for other conditions or disorders (e.g., diabetic neuropathy), and are, indeed, often ignored by the person experiencing those symptoms. Furthermore, if serum potassium levels increase slowly, there may be no warning signs or symptoms at all. Without medical attention, elevated serum potassium levels can be fatal. In summary, the problem is as follows: (1) people with CKD are at high risk of hyperkalemia; (2) hyperkalemia is a medical emergency; (3) people with CKD have no way of checking their own blood potassium levels.
Just as people with diabetes can check their blood glucose levels wherever they are, at any time, and for any reason, people with CKD should be able to check their blood potassium levels wherever they are, at any time, and for any reason.
A home blood potassium meter would empower CKD patients in the same way that home blood glucose meters employer people with diabetes – it would inform patients of their serum potassium level whenever they wanted that information. For example, if a person was experiencing symptoms that might be caused by hyperkalemia, the meter would allow them to check their level. If found to be high, the patient would be able to take swift and appropriate action (e.g., call their doctor, call 9-1-1, go to the nearest emergency room) – action that could be life-saving. Knowledge is power. Knowing that they could access their blood potassium level at any time would remove one (of many) stressors associated with CKD, including MHD – the stress of not knowing what their serum potassium level is.
If such a meter were covered by Medicare (as glucose meters are) and if the procedure for checking one's blood glucose level were similar to the procedure for checking one's blood glucose level (as I envision it to be), the cost and time commitment would be minimal. Therefore, it would be quite feasible for patients to apply this proposed solution to their own lives.
The company, chemical engineer or entrepreneur who creates this blood potassium meter could market it directly to CKD/MHD patients, to renal dietitians and/or to nephrologists. I suspect, however, that such an invention would market itself!