San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
High Tech, High Touch
I spent last weekend working with several people located in far parts of the country putting together a funding proposal for a study aimed at older type 2s. The study is designed to see how effective a mentoring program aimed at type 2s ages 65 and older might be in helping them gain better control over their disease.
I have no idea if the team I worked with will succeed in getting funding, but working on the proposal reminded me of a slogan from the 1980s that is still fresh today: “High tech, high touch.”
The slogan came into vogue when the first trickle of high-tech devices began streaming onto the market—fax machines, personal computers, and sophisticated phone services like call waiting. “High touch” referred to the notion of using those emerging technologies to make the vendor-customer/doctor-patient/teacher-student relationship friendlier, more comfortable, and more personal.
The study we are proposing will pair older type 2s with mentors who connect to them via cell phones, tablets, computers, Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other channels and devices. The mentors, all seasoned diabetes educators or healthcare providers, will give immediate, personalized feedback to their type 2 mentees.
That means more than just looking over the raw figures that preoccupy so much of life as a person with diabetes—the endless blood glucose readings, carb and calorie counts, exercise times and units, and quantities of medicines taken. It opens the door to personal aspects, as well. Sometimes you just need somebody who understands the turf to listen to your woes and hear your concerns.
In fact, one of the questions we discussed in drawing up our proposal was whether the conventional medical approach to treating diabetes was reaching the end of its effectiveness.
By conventional, I mean the traditional path of getting diagnosed, taking a class with a certified dietitian, then going on the succession of drugs that eventually leads to insulin therapy. All, of course, with periodic visits to the doctor or endocrinologist to confirm that, “Yep, you have type 2 diabetes and it’s a shame that it’s a progressive disease.”
But with a huge number of prediabetics in the pipeline (the federal government estimates about 80 million people) and hundreds of thousands of newly diagnosed type 2s emerging each year, the old medical model may be due for a remake. Along with conventional drug therapy, the time may have come to establish mentor/mentee relationships that bring an extra warm, human element into the experience of having diabetes.
It won’t be a one-way street. Mentors will have the reward of seeing their considerable knowledge put to direct, effective use. Watching their mentees thrive from extra attention and fast feedback will make them eager partners.
At least that’s my hope. I know that close relationships with a mentor will not be everybody’s cup of tea. But for a somewhat more vulnerable population of older people, learning how to use social media to benefit their health, morale, and engage in simple human contact may be the best thing to come along since, well, sliced bread and the fax machine.