Emily Allen, winner of one of three Grand Prizes in this year's DiabetesMine Design Challenge, does not have diabetes. But boy, does this gal "get it"! This 25-year-old from Bloomington, Indiana, completed her graduate studies in human-computer interaction design at Indiana University just last year, and was immediately hired by health care device firm Cook Medical, where she had worked as an intern for the previous year.

 

Emily's winning design was diaPETic. Here's the video, and below is the description from her entry form:

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Diabetes affects more than just a person's body; it also affects thoughts and emotions.

DiaPETic is an iPhone/iPod touch application intended to help young girls deal with the emotions that are involved in being a diabetic teenager as well as establish a glucose testing routine.

*The application uses a peripheral device, such as the iBGStar Blood Glucose Meter, to read glucose levels.

Features include:

  • Visual feedback
  • Rewards for keeping to a glucose testing plan
  • Sharing glucose reading history
  • Trend notification

 

We spoke with Emily right after the winners' announcement to learn more about her and this cool "gaming-type" application.

DM) First off, Emily, what is an interaction designer?

EA) Our graduate design program specializes in the user interface. It takes the 'human entities' and applies them to various problems.

So diaPETic was a study project for you, correct?

Yes, in our second year master's program we're tasked with an independent project for the entire year. This was my choice, because I also have a BA in psychology, and I've always been interested in how and stress and other psychological factors can be addressed by the medical industry — how do people deal with emotions of the everyday or specific issues?

Why did you decide to focus on diabetes?

I thought it was an interesting problem space, because it seems the emotions that go along with diabetes can be all over the place.  That's because you don't just deal with it in the clinic or 'just take a pill.'  You have to be constantly aware; everything you do with your body matters.  There are lots of challenges that other diseases don't necessarily deal with.

So I thought it would be harder {chuckles}. Because you have to be conscious all time, the emotional struggle can be a lot deeper than with other chronic illnesses.

Also, I feel it's a very under-served area. All the glucose meters are kind of the same; they don't acknowledge the person, they only acknowledge the blood. They don't deal with the people!

How does diaPETic aim to solve this problem?

The most important thing is that people need to be rewarded for establishing the routine of testing, rather than for having 'good' results — which is not always in their control.

I tried to integrate 'elements of joy' in it to change something that people normally think of as being a very upsetting situation (having to test their blood so often).

I looked at what's really popular with teenage girls right now, gaming sites like Petville on Facebook and Farmville — they love to dress up their avatar. It has to keep changing so people don't get bored with it. Most important is establishing that routine and making it a lifelong habit!

On those games, people are happy with something as simple as getting a new accessory or unlocking some new level — you can see all the things you can do. And there's that moment of joy moving toward those rewards.

How will diaPETic stay fresh?

You build the relationship between the user and the avatar. It reflects the person's BG level or how they feel about it, but never to feel sad, just to acknowledge how they're doing. Over time, you wouldn't get rid of your avatar, but it morphs into another form to keep interest and to keep the rewards fresh.

There's also another feature I'm working on: mini-games, that people can unlock over time.  One of them is called Paw-Hockey, where you try to shoot a puck past this cat. It's cute! This might be the final reward before your avatar morphs — or it could be available sooner. That hasn't been decided yet.

How far along are you in making diaPETic a reality?

I have a 75-page paper and a half-hour presentation I did for school. I also have a prototype of the basic app, except for the mini-games. Those are just drawings at this point, images.

I also have a couple different avenues to expand — the food portion and the online community, so users can have multiplayer experiences and talk to each other. We need that support network.

So after winning the Design Challenge, what's next? Will you be able to pursue diaPETic?

There are some significant barriers, but one is already solved. I was envisioning an iPhone that had glucose testing capability — I got very excited about that peripheral! The question now is, will they allow people to build apps around it?

I would hope Cook's would let me use some of their resources.  They traditionally make surgical devices, nothing patient-facing.  The closest I got to that is helping design the interface for a baby incubator.

But I would love to see this diabetes app become real!

Same here, Emily, same. But we think having someone like you in the medical device industry is a win already. Thank you and congrats!

 
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.