Another standout session from my time at the ADS-ADEA conference was a symposium on technologies changing digital health outcomes.
Professor Brian Oldenburg introduced us to the ‘new’ health communications landscape in a digital era, which was nothing new to many of the consumers in the room! The promise of technology is great, but how do we ensure that it has sufficient reach and sustainability? With technology ever evolving and enhancing, keeping up with it is a real issue.
The buzz word of the conference popped up once again, with talk of the need for ‘person centred’ design in these digital technologies. I felt that this would be a great opportunity to engage with digitally savvy consumers, such as the DA People’s Voice team who were all there frantically tweeting in the room! I would hope that the healthcare professionals in the room were reassured by the promise of digital technologies complementing, rather than replacing their fundamental role.
Digital health programs were challenged by their usability, engagement and outcomes. As we were introduced to a digital diabetes coach, I was really struggling to see how such a program would be engaging or motivating. While it’s true there is no judgement in a robot’s voice, there are also no expressions of empathy or other human elements that help us to foster trust. I was also skeptical that older people would have the computer literacy or appreciation for these programs. Many still prefer to be served by a teller at the bank, or by a person at the checkout. I’m a big advocate for providing options and not forcing technology on those who don’t want it. However, I was surprised to hear that these programs were being taken up by both older and younger people.
You can see the digital health coach for yourself and decide:
Bec Johnson of the Telethon Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre was next to take to the stage, talking to us about how digital technologies have played a fundamental role in helping the family centre to reach across the whole of WA. Can I just say how nice it was to sit there as a West Australian, having something that the East Coasters around me envied? You can check out my sneak peek inside the Family Centre right here.
Bec began talking about how isolating type 1 was for her, and her sentiments just echoed among many of the consumers in the room. She shared that it took 10 years until she first began connecting to other people with diabetes through the Reality Check forums here in Australia. Those forums were her saviour, and she knew that online communities would be a pivotal part of building a type 1 community here in WA.
The Family Centre’s closed community Facebook group is about connections, rather than information sharing. I was rather impressed as Bec told us that the group had ‘conditioned’ this culture among the group, with many participants quick to politely call out posts seeking clinical advice. New entrants to the group are screened with a series of questions, in order to maintain a safe space for parents to share some of their deepest darkest thoughts. The Facebook group also allows consultation with the community on events or programs, in order to deliver the needs of the community.
Bec highlighted the Diabetes Detective program, which would not be possible without shared CGM data and remote contact with Diabetes Educator Amy Rush to smooth out any blood sugar issues. Other examples of online education from the Family Centre include the ‘Cyber Carbs’ online carb counting course and Type 1 Babysitters training. Bec also touched on online crowdfunding, raising an impressive $10,000 for the Family Centre for her swim to Rottnest Island earlier this year.
I was only saying last night how it often feels that the contribution of an actual person with diabetes doesn’t feel valued by healthcare professionals, conference organisers, organisations and companies in the diabetes space.
What I loved most about Bec’s talk was how much it proved the value of having a person who has hands on experience in diabetes, working in diabetes.
Also, I’d really love to see the foundation of the Telethon Type 1 Community translate into something for young adults one day.
Disclosures: Diabetes Australia provided me with a media pass to attend the ADS-ADEA 2017 conference, with the view that I was interested in attending and delivering my own, honest insights to the wider diabetes community.