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Diabetes in the digital age: a patient’s perspective

To what extent do patients want – or require – technology to help them with their healthcare treatment? While primarily an issue for the patients themselves, it is also important for the technology providers, and for the payers who often need to decide whether an unmet need is being addressed by a proposed new device. At the PDA conference in Gothenburg recently, there was a good illustration of this.

First up on Day 2, patient speaker Johan Ahstrom gave a very interesting and quite moving account of how he has managed his Diabetes Mellitus for the last 34 years, since the age of 25. We heard how he spent a long time using a five dose insulin pen regime before moving, nine years ago, onto a pump based treatment. Pump technologies advanced, and more recently he switched onto the mylife YpsoPump, used alongside a Freestyle Libre glucose monitoring system.

Johan spoke in a very clear, matter-of-fact way about the day to day commitment of managing his own treatment. We were reminded of how T1DM sufferers are constantly making calculations and adjustments to keep blood sugar levels under control; constantly making decisions about what to eat and drink. Johan hasn’t let his condition prevent him from leading a highly active lifestyle: raising three children, travelling with work and enjoying fly fishing in remote parts of the world, sometimes travelling the final leg by helicopter (fly fishing indeed…). Johan’s overall experience is that steadily improving technology increasingly helps him to manage his condition while living as normal a life as possible.

“We rarely hear from
patients and sufferers at these conferences we attend. And when we do, it reminds us what we are there for”.

Two more informative papers followed, which covered the tricky topic of the payer perspective; the need to think about the value offered by healthcare solutions, and the importance of addressing unmet needs. In the panel discussion that followed, Johan was asked what unmet need he had; what would he like from the industry if it could be offered?

After a moment’s reflection Johan replied, “Not much.” Other than a cure of course (which reminded us that there currently are none), he felt he had what he needed from current technology.

Specifically, he personally felt that, while technology was advancing to the point of being able to offer full closed loop control, he personally would not want to follow that route. “I’m not yet ready”, he said, “to hand over to technology the responsibility for decisions that, if wrong, could result in me being dead within a day or two. I would rather do that myself.”.

“That doesn’t sound like an unmet need to me”, said one of the panellists, and he may have been right. However, I was thinking more about the fact that we rarely hear from patients and sufferers at these conferences we attend. And when we do, it reminds us what we are there for.

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