Social media, apps and type 1 diabetes

It is the best of times. I have been providing care for children with type 1 diabetes for 10 years, and in that short period have witnessed amazing changes in how we provide care. With the evolution of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, we are connected like never before. These social media applications and other smartphone apps have brought about amazing social and cultural change and brought together groups of people across the globe in ways that when I started my training were not available.

Our communities have grown larger, smarter and more capable to impact lives and medicine for the better. The effect of social media and mHealth applications that help patients manage their diabetes is exploding. Until recently, I had no idea how much of an impact it was having in my little part of the world—diabetes management.

Not long ago, I was at the annual American Diabetes Association meeting that brings together the world’s leaders in diabetes care. Many of the sessions were centered around the effect of social media in diabetes care. You see, we have seen some amazing things if the past few years. A group of technology-savvy dads (they call themselves diabetes dads) were frustrated with the slow pace by which new devices and technologies were becoming available to their children with diabetes. We providers yearn for the cure, we ache for it, we desire better treatments in the meantime, but the technology was slow to be approved and just out of our reach as health care professionals. These diabetes dads recognized this and decided to take matters in their own hands. They decided #werenotwaiting, and a movement was born. They developed Nightscout, an android smartphone app that could take the raw blood glucose data from the Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (a device worn by people with diabetes that detects their blood sugar every five minutes while worn and displays that information on a handheld receiver) and transfer it via the Nightscout app to a Pebble Watch. Voila! Blood sugars were now in the cloud!

Parents could see their children’s blood sugars in real-time no matter where they were—at school, at a friend’s house, while sleeping or while taking an exam at college. Can you say game changer for these families? Parents were sleeping at night. Children were living life WITH diabetes, not missing out BECAUSE of diabetes.

The Nightscout movement made a Facebook group and it has grown to 17,000 plus members over four years. Now these families help each other from across the world. This movement was a phenomenon the FDA could not ignore. Now we have seen an explosion of cloud-based technology, like the new app Glooko that our clinic now uses to allow for real-time glucose monitoring. Even better, the ADA meeting brought diabetes researchers and thinkers together with these community leaders and our community is growing, sharing and working together for common goal, for common purpose—improve the lives of people with diabetes, and WE’RE NOT WAITING!

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