Partha Kar caught our attention on social media as a diabetes activist over in the UK, getting people talking and organizing conferences. Turns out he’s actually an endocrinologist, who has taken up the torch of the #gbdoc (Great Britain Diabetes Online Community).

Please help us welcome Partha here today, sharing his story and passion… and focus on superheroes!

Hi, I am Partha, and at the moment, I wear many hats – but foremost as someone who is an endocrinologist, passionate about improving type 1 diabetes care. I live in Portsmouth, UK, where I have been working for the last 8 years as an endo. My early career was built in India, after which I came over to the UK in 1999, and have been here ever since! Diabetes has been a passion ever since I started training, partly inspired by a few amazing endos I met along the way and partly by meeting so many folks living with type 1 diabetes. That sort of entangled with the world of social media, which for me, started out as something of a fad, interacting with other folks around the world… but gradually morphed into something much more meaningful and fun!

It’s always been fascinating being on social media as someone who is a healthcare professional specializing in diabetes. As mentioned, type 1 diabetes has always been a passion of mine, and over the years, social media has been a source of much joy, and education, as well as furthering the cause and profile of type 1 diabetes.

Helping and Guiding

To begin with, let’s talk education. As a health care professional, I cannot think of a better way of learning and understanding what challenges life with type 1 diabetes brings than via social media interactions. I don’t have diabetes myself — all I have is knowledge of its physiology and tips to help along the way, based on scientific evidence.

Books or classes don’t quite teach you the impact of a hypo (low blood sugar), or the normalization of an event that can be debilitating. We as HCPs generally chase the holy grail of lower HbA1c relentlessly. Many such examples abound. But for me, interacting with those who live with it has been priceless — in fact hands-down, it’s been the biggest thing that’s helped me develop into (hopefully) a better doctor.

It’s also led to the realization that it’s not the technology that matters (although of high importance), but it’s the support you offer, the arm around the shoulder when needed… the ability to “just be there.” With the best will in the world or indeed time, I probably would see someone with type 1 diabetes 2-3 times a year, at a stretch of about an hour — one hour in their life of 8,760 hours in a year. To put that into perspective, that’s 0.01% of their lives; it’s about using that minuscule fraction of time to help and guide, not to demand and lecture. My personal perspective? At the end of the day, an HCP is just someone along the way, trying to help with the knowledge at our disposal — nothing more, nothing less.

Superheroes and Speakers

Raising the profile of type 1 diabetes in the UK has been a tough ask, given the focus on prevention of type 2 diabetes, and the lazy stereotyping of all diabetes being the same. As anyone living with either of those types will tell you, they are fundamentally different. The needs, the targets, the aims, the treatment… much difference between them, yet we struggle to make a distinction. However, social media has been a boon — as perhaps has been the national role I nowadays do within the National Health Service.

An idea which started off as simply an idea, over the course of time, evolved into something quite fun: How would it be if we think of type 1 diabetes as a superpower? But one that the individual didn’t want? I am a huge comic book nerd and the similarity between characters such as Wolverine, Hulk or Spider Man — characters who get a super power but constantly look for the cure, while learning to live with it, resonated somehow. We involved four fabulous individuals who live with type 1 diabetes, and voila! A comic book was born. We made it free to download — as a medium to raise awareness as well as perhaps engage those who struggle with the diagnosis. A second volume is in the works, and who knows where it will take us next? The present comic book has been distributed through various healthcare networks and been picked up widely, the feedback for which has been very encouraging!

Another such fun initiative was organizing the TAD talks, which stands for “Talking About Diabetes.” The concept? Once again, very simple — we got people who live with type 1 diabetes to talk about their experiences, their trials and tribulations, at an event in London put together with the support of Novo Nordisk. This is our second year, and the most recent event was in April. Most importantly, the speakers talked about how they had achieved much in life, and type 1 diabetes had not been a barrier to them — all to an audience of those caring for or living with type 1 diabetes. The best result? The kids diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, who told us it was helpful. The talks are all posted online for anyone to view.

Will it change anything? I don’t know, but it seemed like a good idea, so we did it. If it helps even one person, it’s been worth it. Peer support is a key element, in my opinion, of care in type 1 diabetes. It’s an invaluable resource in the journey of self-management, and even apart from the inspiring talks, I believe it does help just to get folks to connect with each other.

Pick Your Improvements

Holding a national policy-making role at NHS does come with its share of trials and tribulations. It also comes laced with opportunity — the opportunity to improve care. Many, understandably, have different views as to what could be improved. Some say it’s access to the latest technology, for some it’s the latest insulin — but I like getting basics right.

To me, there are a few fundamentals to get right, namely making sure payers understand the distinction between types of diabetes while developing services. The importance of safety within hospitals cannot be stated enough — it is unacceptable, if not uneducated to not allow a person with type 1 diabetes (if they are able) to manage their own diabetes while hospitalized. It is simply unconscionable to have person with type 1 diabetes go into ketoacidosis because an HCP didn’t know the fundamentals that a type 1 diabetes patient needs insulin to survive.

And finally? The importance of getting a person with type 1 diabetes access to someone — anyone! — who is trained and knows what they are doing. This cannot be too much to ask — but these are basics which we must correct first. My role offers that opportunity, as well as ensuring technology is reviewed and faster access is available for those who need and want it. The task is not small, but I am lucky to be surrounded by a fabulous bunch of keen fellow clinicians dotted around the country who share the passion and drive. Let’s see where this all takes us.

The future is always laced with possibilities and there is huge potential in the UK and American DOC (Diabetes Online Community) interconnecting. The challenges are, give or take, not intensely dissimilar. Good ideas abound, and it would be amazing if such ideas could be shared “across the pond.”

In today’s digital day and age, the world cannot be limited by boundaries of countries — as give or take, our challenges are not too dissimilar — on whichever side of the Atlantic you sit.

Finally, a big thank you to Amy for asking me to contribute to the ‘Mine. I hope you have enjoyed reading this simple snapshot of what drives me. Amidst the success stories, there are also many failures. But I suspect the key is never to be discouraged, continue trying to make a difference… And in the end, if even one person feels our efforts have helped, then it’s been worth every single failure along the way.