Whether we sing out of tune, or experience frustrating out-of-range blood sugars, our friends in the Diabetes Community are always there, right? But they may be difficult to find at just the right moment...
Luckily, there's now an app for that!
It's called HelpAround, a new free app that's all about peer-to-peer support -- designed to help us locate other D-peeps who live nearby or might be close enough to assist us in a pinch -- and it hit the Android and Apple stores in January.
Modeled on the popular WhatsApp cross-platform instant messaging service based in California that Facebook bought for billions in February, Helparound has been getting some great press and a lot of venture capital investment money in the past year.
What it does is allow you to log in (on either an iOS or Android device), and immediately find other people in the D-Community who might be able to offer some help, whether you're in need of an emergency bottle of insulin, in search of a local endo, or if you find yourself stranded with limited supplies on vacation. The app automatically detects your location to and shows others who are logged in nearby. Those physically closest to you are displayed at the top, while those farther away fall below.
This app basically capitalizes on what we in the DOC have been saying for years -- that peer support from those who "get it" is vital, and often more meaningful in our daily lives than the limited time we spend with our healthcare professionals. But HelpAround is novel in that it offers a more mobile and immediate channel to finding fellow patients than Facebook or Twitter.
This "social app" was created by an Israel-based startup of the same name, founded by two leaders in the health technology world: Yishai Knobel, former head of mobile health at AgaMatrix that brought us the iPhone-connected glucose meter known as the iBGStar; and Shlomi Aflalo, former VP of R&D at advertising tech startup eXelate.
Their tool "crawls social networks" to figure out who can help you when you're in need, and they told us this concept actually came from Canadian D-Dad Robert Oringer, who has two sons with type 1 and is heavily involved in diabetes tech at AgaMatrix and AMG Medical.
As the story goes, according to a post by Jessica Apple over at ASweetLife:
Several years ago, Robert took his younger son to an NHL game at the Bell Centre in Montreal — an arena seating more than 21,000 fans. Upon arriving at their seats, his son realized that he had forgotten to bring his diabetes supply bag with his meter, lancing device, glucose tabs, and emergency glucagon. In one of those diabetes 'find a solution fast' moments, Robert quickly considered the alternatives — leave the arena and drive back home (too far), head over to the nearest pharmacy (also far and likely costly), or try to locate someone else in the arena with diabetes willing to help, if necessary, with supplies. Robert decided to 'roll the dice' and stay at the arena with his son ...While his son enjoyed the game, Robert spent the game (and the drive home) thinking how mobile phone technology could be used to discreetly identify and reach out to other people nearby with diabetes for help. With more than 21,000 people in the arena, based purely on percentages, there surely must have been several hundred people with diabetes that night who could have assisted. Thanks to HelpAround, that thought is no longer a 'what-if,' it's a real option.
Can it make an impact? With the growing need for more preventative care and cost-cutting, HelpAround's creators believe more will turn to these type of peer-support tools in the coming years. Knobel points in particular to the Affordable Care Act and how hospitals are under more pressure to keep patients healthier and safer outside of clinical settings.
Groups and Features
In the first few months, the app's had more than 2,300 downloads and has about 1,500 users each month, with ~30% using the app every day. That's pretty impressive stuff given that most diabetes apps are barely used!
Stats also show that most users are in the States, and about 90% of the questions posted get answered with an average of four responses. Already, there are groups forming in this app community like DiabetesHelpers and Parents of Children With Diabetes that you can sign up for and post messages on specifically. And most recently, HelpAround expanded beyond the sole focus on diabetes by offering a new Food Allergies group. There are also more "safety nets" on the way for other chronic conditions including cancer.
Down the road, the creators say they plan to add a feature that lets you see a visual representation of the closest helpers in your area. While it won't show precise locations, it will indicate how many miles away someone is from you. And beyond that Knobel says they're hoping to add a professional layer where people can connect with HCPs, or doctors can use the system themselves.
How I Helped...
When I first read about HelpAround at the start of the year, I was very enthusiastic and signed up right away. Unfortunately at that time, the app and community were so new, there weren't many others on the network yet and certainly no one near me in Indianapolis (or the whole state of Indiana, actually). So it didn't really serve the purpose for me at first.
But a little more than a month ago, I received a notification that someone had posted a message to me at HelpAround. And that person lived right here in Central Indiana, just a few counties away! It was a fellow type 1 diagnosed as an adult about five years ago, and the note on my smartphone sure grabbed my attention: "I need help with my diabetes."
Not sure what to make of that, I replied with a quick little intro note and asked how I might help. This PWD responded with an alarming message: experiencing DKA-level blood sugars, having a limited supply of Lantus pens, not having a local endo to turn to, and not knowing what to do.
After a few message exchanges, I had recommended some endos in the Indy area (only about a half-hour from this woman), connected her by email with my own local endo, and also added her to our local Adult D-Community group on Facebook as a way to network with others. I've not heard any follow-up about a meetup with my endo, but this fellow PWD has let me know she's doing OK now and now has a supply of insulin.
Later I noticed another PWD in northern Indiana who had posted a question about neuropathy in the hands and feet, asking how people deal with that and any thoughts on meds that might help. I replied with my own insight, as that's something I've dealt with in the past myself; and more than a dozen other PWDs responded with their own comments, too.
I've also been watching some of the other conversations gong on, ranging from questions about local support groups to just notes about PWDs' interested in finding some "diabuddies" to chat with online. Others are more problem-specific, like what to do about complications or even questions about how sleep impacts blood sugars; that last one from Taylor in Arizona garnered about 8 responses, from simple observations to specifics on "dawn phenomenon," insulin use, and recommendations about what to discuss with an endo. Valuable tips, all!
So in short, I'm impressed and I think here's a lot of potential for this to do good. It sure is the best way I see to find quick assistance when you run out of insulin or other critical supplies, for example. But at the same time, it does have a "just another question forum" feeling once you've spent a bunch of time scrolling through all the questions people post. So I suppose unless you're really on the hunt to find a local PWD right away, the functionality may not be so unique.
Overall, what's novel about HelpAround is the immediacy of that "safety net" feature, whereas simply "connecting" PWDs through social media or a phone app isn't so novel -- but in the end, the more peer-support tools we have available to us, the better! So why not try HelpAround yourself, as either a Helper, or a Helpee?