Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New tech application for controlling diabetes

I enjoy sharing (when I get permission to) the stories of new social tech ventures that visit Benetech. Because we're not a funder, we usually can't help new social entrepreneurs with their number one need, money. But, we can be a sounding board for new projects and help them on their path to using technology to make the world a better place.

One of these projects is the Care Product Institute. The guys creating it have lots of experience in business and health care, and they have a new idea that would really help people with diabetes. Since many people go blind from diabetes, I've seen the scale of this problem personally.

We know how to care for diabetes to prevent the major negative consequences like blindness or limb amputation. The issue is that people are human (surprise) and most of them drop off in their compliance with measuring their blood sugar. Not monitoring blood sugar leads to the bad outcomes.

CPI's idea is to link up the person with diabetes with a buddy who cares about them. The blood sugar measurement device has a pager transmitter to send the test results to CPI. CPI sends a simple range of information to the buddy, and the buddy has a pager-receiver equipped light globe. The light globe glows different colors when the person with diabetes measures (or fails to measure) their blood sugar. That way, the buddy can contact their friend and encourage them to test or to deal with a test result. Or, simply cheer them on for maintaining things under control.

I like the approach. It's relatively inexpensive, certainly compared to the health costs of not controlling diabetes. It doesn't require a change to doctor behavior, which is hard to change for lots of reasons unrelated to the doctor's interest in seeing better results (cost, liability, time, etc.). It connects to the way people actually behave.

Groups like Kaiser are interested in testing this product, because Kaiser is structured in a way that encourages them to take long term responsibility for their members. Most other health insurance-type groups would not be inclined to spend more money now to avoid a major negative health event years in the future. But, if it's inexpensive enough, even people of modest means can access this kind of solution, gaining the benefits currently available only to wealthier people who can afford to spend on optional services (like trained nurses or more frequent doctor visits).

I hope they are able to raise the money to take this to the next stage of being tested by a group like Kaiser, and I am trying to help them do so!

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