We tend to assume that the big companies making glucose monitoring products do nothing but sit around thinking about how they can sell more product. You can't blame us; it sure looks that way from the outside. But late last week I was privileged to get an inside view of some of the real innovation going on behind closed doors.
I was invited to visit Roche's New Concept Incubator, a small "think tank" of about 20 people including designers, sociologists and behavioral experts located just down the road from me in Palo Alto, CA. My role was to spend the morning sharing my knowledge about Online Social Support Environments for PWDs.
Before I go on, the requisite disclosure:
[Disclosure: In return for my participation with Roche, I was paid a modest honorarium, and reimbursed for travel expenses and lunch. All content here is that of the author and neither reviewed or approved by Roche. In fact, I was NOT encouraged to post about this visit or to publicize Roche in any way. The speaker's agreement I signed included the statement: "neither your participation... nor any payments or reimbursement received by you... are or will be intended to induce, or in any way influence you to prescribe, promote, recommend, or require the use of any Roche product."]
The reason I'm posting about this is because I found it fascinating — and I think many PWDs out there would like to know about the high-powered creativity that companies like Roche are investing in finding The Next Big Thing in Diabetes Care.
And this Next Big Thing has nothing directly to do with glucose monitoring products. Rather, this group has conducted extensive qualitative research primarily with Type 2 diabetics and discovered that which is so obvious to those of us living with diabetes (as described to me by a lead engineer): "People's needs are scattered; they're struggling to deal with diet, activity, stress and depression, social support, busy lives like the rest of us and more. There's not one big problem, so there's not one single solution that can help people manage their diabetes better. Rather, a holistic solution is required."
I'm not at liberty to say exactly what this group is developing (which is business-confidential for obvious reasons), but I can tell you that it's quite a departure from what you would expect a "stodgy" company like Roche to be working on. It's all about educating people about their illness and helping them live better with it.
What I tried to share with their team was more detail on the everyday frustrations of us PWDs, and what we get out of connecting online. Lots of healthcare professionals out there are still stuck on the idea that patients exchanging info online can be dangerous, because the content may not always be medically accurate. The Roche innovation team seems to well understand that this is so not the point. They've looked around enough to see that social networks are making a big impact on people's mental state and motivation. So what else can be done to actually get people to start eating better and be more physically active, for example?
Roche is certainly not alone in trying to figure out how to motivate behavior change. But I was duly impressed by their approach to "enable emotional intelligence and empathy-driven strategies within companies." Can't argue with that.
btw, my host was Ryan Rodriguez, an Innovation Strategist and very sweet guy, who tells me the Incubator hopes to have an early prototype of its first concept by late next year.
Viva la Innovation.