Actually, we have Veenu Aulakh to thank for putting the DiabetesMine Design Challenge on the map. She heard me give a keynote speech at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Project HealthDesign event a few years ago, calling for more patient involved in medical device design, and it seems that a light bulb went on: the California HealthCare Foundation strives to foster better tools for patient self-management of chronic illnesses, so why not support a Crowdsourcing Initiative that would let patients do the designing for themselves?

A chat with Veenu today on patient empowerment, and what makes this contest exciting:

DBMine) As a program officer for the California HealthCare Foundation's (CHCF) Better Chronic Disease Care program, you get to work with many new programs and tools designed to "empower patients." What are some of the best manifestations you've seen of that?

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VA) Over the last few years we have seen a great deal of innovation taking advantage of the internet and cell phones to help support and empower patients to better manage their health. We completed an early pilot about four years ago to help teens and children manage their asthma by using cell phones in connection with their care providers. We were able to show in an underserved population, youth interacted regularly with the phones and experienced reductions in asthma attacks and visits to the Emergency Room.

Since that time there have been hundreds of pilots proving how cell phones can be important tools to support self-care. We have also seen some exciting innovations with online programs to help people manage and track various behaviors from exercise and diet to pain related factors to clinical measures like blood pressure. I don't think there is one magic program, but together all these programs provide patients with interesting new options to  be more involved in their health.

Your group is specifically focused on better management of chronic illnesses, like diabetes. How do you see Social Media and new online tools making an impact?

Social Media is a very important tool to support better management of chronic illness. We all know that a person living with a chronic condition spends less than 1% of their life with their physician and 99%+ of the time they are on their own struggling to manage their health. Social media provides a great way for patients to learn from others like themselves in a convenient and somewhat anonymous setting. It often helps answer the questions physicians can't answer and can address the nitty-gritty questions for how to live with a chronic disease from what to eat at restaurants to to how to pick the best device or clothing.

Social Media can also provide people with important emotional support when dealing with the challenges of living with a chronic disease. These are issues that often times the health care systems or family members aren't able to do but those living with a chronic condition can provide.

How can an innovation competition like this one make a difference in quality of care?

Innovation competitions are great to better understand what would improve the lives of people living with diabetes and hopefully uncover some new and interesting ideas. I think the more the health care field understands the real struggles and needs of those living with diabetes, the easier it is to improve the health system and hopefully develop new products to address some of these needs. We are also hopeful that industry will pay attention to the ideas being developed and when it makes sense, are able to bring some of the ideas to market which can improve the lives (and quality of care) for people living with diabetes.

We're very grateful for CHCF's continuing sponsorship of the DiabetesMine Design Challenge.  What do think were some highlights of last year's competition, and what would you most like to see this time around?

Last year's competition was very exciting on a variety of levels. First, the sheer volume of high-quality ideas was impressive, and made us realize competitions like these are important to spark new ideas. Second, it was exciting to see how the trends in the consumer marketplace can influence how people view solutions for their health— for example the iPhone was an important component in a large number of entries.

Lastly, I was impressed by a number of the integrated devices (combining a lot of functionalities into one) and some specific ideas like the FootSafe device to prevent amputations, as well as the small wearable devices in the form of jewelry and other innocuous objects. For this year's competition, I am hoping we continue to see high-quality ideas and that we are able to help advance some of these ideas so they can benefit those living with diabetes.

Me too, Veenu. Me too!

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.