The following is an interview I conducted with Fredrik Debong, co-founder of mySugr, an innovative app for helping Type 1 diabetics better manager their disease.
Bill: We met in Paris at Doctor 2.0 where you presented as part of a digital health start-up program. I was fascinated by your app. Can you tell us about it, how it works and some of the results you are seeing?
Fredrik: Absolutely! The app mySugr Companion is a modern, sleek and beautiful diabetes logbook which makes it fun to take care of yourself! As some of our users put it, it makes diabetes therapy exciting and the data actually useful. We built it based on our own experience as people with diabetes. What we see in people using the Companion is that they not only smile more, but also that they start taking better care of themselves – that's our goal. In the app you can log your meals using images, record blood glucose values and insulin boluses/injections. Each entry is rewarded with points and every log results in your monster (mine is named Spooky) giving you a bit of feedback. It's actually fun to use!
Bill: I understand you just rolled out in the US. What does that mean for Americans with T1 Diabetes
Fredrik: We've been available in Europe for about 18 months and have more than 40,000 people overall in our user community. But the US launch was a huge deal for mySugr requiring us to obtain FDA clearance and set up our newest office located in San Francisco. What it means for our American brothers and sisters with diabetes is that they now can download mySugr for free in the App Store and soon also in the Google Play store.
In most nations here in Europe, the mySugr Companion has climbed the ranks to to become the #1 medical diabetes app. We did not expect this and are ecstatic about the response! Coming from Europe, we understand the importance of culture in our daily lives as PWDs since every country is very different here. For this reason, we are building a US team managed by Kyle J. Rose, an industry veteran who has been advising organizations working in diabetes of all kinds from big Pharma to governmental and a number of nonprofits. Scott Johnson will be leading community relations for this team. The goal is to reach out to people across all fifty states and adapt mySugr as much as possible. As was the case in Europe, our users are the true developers of mySugr and we love the feedback from the US so far which has been particularly insightful.
Bill: Your App is for Type 1 patients, do you plan to roll out something for Type 2 diabetics in the future?
We based the app on our intimate knowledge of not only type 1 diabetes, but rather, on our lives with insulin-treated diabetes, be it type 1 or type 2. Type 2's who do not need insulin will soon also be able to use the app for their needs. You may ask why we did not include this group when we started? It's simply that type 1's and type 2's have problems of a different nature and we'd rather start with one before trying to solve them all. In our discussions with people with type 2, we have learned a lot about how they feel about their diabetes therapy. Personally, I can strongly relate to what is often mentioned, a lack of will to change behavior. That's where we wish to help out since it naturally fits the mySugr model. We recognize the immense challenge here and have already began to see exciting results.
Our medical advisory board, listed on our website, made up of diabetologists family care physicians and diabetes educators from all across the world has also been key in this effort.
Bill: At Vertical Health we are very interested in the science of behavior change and how we can help communities of patients shed bad behaviors and adopt healthy behaviors, what techniques are you using to help people better manage their type 1 diabetes?
We just published a blog post on motivation which talks about this! As we see it, people with diabetes lack positive, short term feedback loops. What we use to close the gaps here is to introduce a diabetes monster for our users to tame, which rather than nagging and judging you may in fact tell a joke, just when you need it most! If your blood glucose dips below a certain threshold it could react by saying "OMG! Eat something!" and winking an eye. We built the app on the foundation of positive support similar to what takes place in diabetes camps all across the world. We feel that a smile can go a long way. Diabetes can often be scary or confusing and sometimes many of us just need a break. Unfortunately, since it's a 24/7 condition, that's not possible yet so mySugr tries to give you a little one even if it's just for a few seconds a few times a day. We observe consistently that if a behavior is based on a positive feedback loop, it tends to stick, so that's the gist of it!
In the mySugr Companion you can also play challenges which help you stay focused on the small steps. You earn points for logging your therapy data and how you are doing. If you continue playing the challenges, the app's Pro package becomes free to use! For every completed challenge you will receive additional days of the Pro package with additional functionality.
By taking care of yourself and taming your diabetes monster, you are rewarded and the rewarded vary from one challenge to another. For example, one of the challenges is set up together with the diabetes nonprofit JDRF; by playing the challenge "Sweat for a Cure" you support the JDRF in their research to find us people with diabetes a cure!
Bill: What does the future hold for MySugr?
Fredrik: We have a lot going on right now. We are super excited about launching mySugr Junior in English, the app we built to help families with children who have Type 1 in their day-to-day life, particularly in the way they communicate and make diabetes decisions together. It's not a full fledged logging app like the Companion, but it solves a specific problem, that of independence for our young ones. It has grown popular in Austria and Germany among our user community of 6-10 year olds. It's also our first app on Android! Our Companion app will soon follow.
As you know from our chat, integration with devices of all kinds is something we are working on which you will see in the future versions of our product soon!