As many of you may know, my husband/consulting partner and I were approached by Roche Diabetes' Accu-Chek team a few years back with a challenging project request: how could we help them best "embrace" the burgeoning online diabetes patient community (what is now known lovingly as the DOC)? Our suggestion was hosting an in-person summit, to offer us cyber-advocates a rare chance to meet each other, as well as an unprecedented "peek behind the curtain" at the real goings-on of a Pharma company that serves us. Obviously, the idea was a big hit, both for Roche and competitor Medtronic Diabetes, which just hosted its 2nd annual "Diabetes Advocates Forum" at its Southern California headquarters about 10 days ago. What struck me was the ease and "warm fuzziness" with which they pulled it off, I must say.
The very first time we were all invited to visit Roche, there was a lot of animosity in the air (ooh, those evil Pharma folk!) Talking with and getting to know the people behind the brand logo helped ease the tension. But most of us — myself included — were still adamant that we'd never accept an invitation to an event that was "all about them — just a big product presentation." In follow-on summits, Roche was careful to offer substance of "bigger meaning" to us advocates, including sessions with key people from the ADA, AADE and IDF. They went to great lengths in the last few years to amp up the social side of their Summit, too, with pool tables, an open bar, karaoke machines, and photo booth, to name a few of the perks. A little fun goes a long way toward breaking the ice, of course.
Yet Medtronic didn't have to try nearly so hard. In fact, what they offered was basically an event that was "all about them — a big product presentation."
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Yes, this year they did include a talk by Chuck Eichten, the funny and creative author of "The Book of Better" about insulin pumping (errr, product tie-in?) And Chief Medical Officer Dr. Fran Kaufman gave a moving talk about her work providing insulin to needy children in 3rd World countries. She's very impressive and personable; it's pretty much impossible not to like her.
But the meat of the 'Advocates Forum' actually focused on Medtronic's product pipeline, something we (gasp!) all really wanted to know about. Low-glucose suspend technology, as well as their new smaller Enlite CGM sensor are still stuck in approval purgatory, and their patch pump technology is, well... just stuck. But exciting things are on the way: they may well be the first to release a "combo" patch pump with two cannulas built right in, just inches apart: one for insulin delivery and one for CGM! An image of their "combo inserter" design appeared in the slideset (I'm trying to get a copy). How sweet would the combo deal be?!
They gave us a full demonstration of the MySentry CGM remote monitor, and even went so far as to offer a MySentry loaner system to each of us for a free three-month review if we please — which I daresay would have scandalized us DOC'ers a few years back! They're pushing product! But oh, how we want and need these disease-care tools. They make the stuff and we need it. What's wrong with that?
The congenial atmosphere of this event was surely due in part to precedents set, i.e. our familiarity with being hosted by a Pharma company nowadays (save for a few newbies who warmed our hearts by repeating, 'I can't believe I'm meeting all you guys!' You know who you are â™¥)
But it also had a lot to do with the Medtronic People. The PR/Com folks who handled the hosting are passionate, knowledgeable, and down to Earth; it really felt like they "get us." You can't help loving what they're doing with their plush-toy for teaching T1 kids who are new to pumping, for example: the new and improved Lenny the Lion now has a much more fun and interactive website, and even new spots on his tummy and arms and legs for practicing infusion sites. Seems like they definitely "get" what kids with diabetes want, too.
Then there's the amazing Brainpower at that place. Product strategist Lane Desborough never ceases to blow me away — especially now that I've met his team of (literally) rocket scientists working aggressively on Artificial Pancreas algorithms. Their little corner of the Medtronic HQ is papered with sticky notes, manifestos, and complex charts. It looks like the best of any design lab in Silicon Valley. I think we were all struck by how lucky we are to have these Big Brains working on our disease problems. If they can't help us automate our broken pancreases, who can?
Not to gush too much, but picking up on their passion, it really felt like we truly are ALL on the same team.
Then Fran Kaufman does the unthinkable. She invites a bunch of diabetes bloggers to dinner at her house, with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and a few personal friends in tow. It's like we matter. It's like we're her peers. It's like she's as appreciative of our work as we are of hers. This is a former president of ADA, consistently named one of the Best Doctors in America, with a resume that would knock your socks off.
So, are we becoming "corrupted" by this close association with Pharma? Or, are we finally finding the path to "move the conversation forward" between the patient community and the industry/medical community? I hope the latter... I hope we still remain patient/consumer "watchdogs" on the lookout for abuses — but not the kind of watchdogs that bite and attack just for the sheer pleasure of it. Rather, I hope it's possible to be on a first-name basis with the Powers That Be and still offer constructive criticism when it's due.
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Here's a roundup of what our peers reported from this year's Medtronic Diabetes Advocates Forum:
â™¦ David Edelman gives a blow-by-blow description of the entire day, including comments from the attendees. Very informative!
â™¦ Leighann Calentine gives her own brief overview of the technology Medtronic is working on: Enlite sensors anticipated to be out by the end of 2013, the patch pump / CGM combo in development, and the work being done by Lane's team on the APP.
â™¦ Karmel Allison shares a detailed overview of the discussion on how to build the closed-loop system and the current hurdles in making it reliable.
â™¦ Bennett "Badshoe" shares his impressions of how building the closed-loop system is like "engineering art."
â™¦ Kim Vlasnik includes a video of the demonstration of the MySentry product.
â™¦ Sarah shares her thoughts on better use of CGM data.
â™¦ Scott Johnson writes an overview of the Forum, and also ponders the ethics of borrowing the MySentry.
â™¦ Sara K includes a 9-minute video of Lane's talk with the attendees.
â™¦ Jess writes mostly about her excitement in meeting others from the DOC and being part of the Medtronic DAF event.
â™¦ Karen Graffeo is simply inspired.
â™¦ Abby had a whole array of emotions to share.
â™¦ Naomi Kingery, who actually works for Medtronic, is all about the "hope, faith and friendship" that advocates share.
â™¦ Kelly Kunik is... um... obsessed with cupcakes?
â™¦ Mike Hoskin's post is a photo scrapbook of the event, and also of the touristy stuff his gang did on Saturday around LA :)
â™¦ And finally, Amanda Sheldon, one of the hosts from Medtronic PR, writes on the company's blog about how glad they are "to hear from the online community about what is working, what is not, and to determine together areas to focus on."