Last Monday I found out from my doctor that I have Diabetes (probably Type 1; I need more tests to confirm), which basically means high blood sugar. It was quite a surprise, as I have no family history of diabetes and it is relatively uncommon to get Type 1 diabetes in your 30's. However, I soon discovered that diabetes affects more than 240 million people worldwide. So it is something a lot of people have. Indeed, chances are you know of someone with it or you may even have it yourself. Because it is so widespread, there is a lot of web data, social networking options and even web apps that cater to people with diabetes.
In this post, I'm somewhat selfishly going to review the diabetes sites and apps I found across the Web. But this post also serves, I hope, as an introduction to the more general topic of 'Health 2.0' - a.k.a. healthcare that uses the Internet. Over the weekend, Frank Gruber posted an excellent round-up of health 2.0 resources on the Web. Frank pointed out that the big sites, like Web MD and HealthLine, are the resources most used. But there are a lot of newer sites and apps that offer a more modern, Web 2.0 approach. He also noted that both Microsoft and Google are making moves in health 2.0. For example see our story earlier this year on Microsoft acquiring MedStory.
Defining Health 2.0
As with Web 2.0, there is a lot of debate about the meaning of the term 'health 2.0'. According to the Health 2.0 conference blog, their definition "is currently focusing on user-generated aspects of Web2.0 within health care but not directly interacting with the mainstream health care system." This means things like search, communities, and tools. As yet Health 2.0 user-generated content has not been connnected to the wider health care system - which, according to the Health 2.0 conference organizers, hasn't even adopted Web 1.0 yet!
The first thing you might do if you discover you have diabetes, is do some Web searches on it. In my case my doctor and specialist had already explained the basics of the condition to me: it is fairly easily managed, via testing your blood a few times a day and injecting insulin maybe a couple of times a day (it varies by person). Also you must drastically cut your sugar intake in food and drink, and exercise moderately. There is no cure at this point for diabetes, so this routine must be followed indefinitely. So I was told all that, but still I was curious to find out everything I could... so, to the Web search engines I went!
A Google search is where I started; and at the top of the first page of results is the Wikipedia definition. This is a very thorough and long page, explaining what diabetes is and pointing to over 50 external references. A lot of people still complain about the Wikipedia as a source of reliable information, but as a starting point on diabetes it is exemplary.
My next port of call was a specialist health search engine. Frank mentioned Healia in his post, a health search engine that gives you filtering options. In my tests, it didn't really throw up much new info that I needed. WebMD had better info, but it wasn't presented very attractively.
Another 'vertical search' option for health is Kosmix, which has a kind of search-portal for many different verticals - one of which is diabetes. Now this is more like it! There are guides, images, Q&A, videos, "trusted sources", news, a forum, and more - all very nicely presented and easy to access. Even the ads were relevant to diabetes. There are a lot of areas to explore in this portal from Kosmix, making it the best search resource I found on the subject. But it will depend on what you're looking for - in my case, variety and good presentation are key factors to help me explore this new condition I have.
For more info on health search engines, see of course our network blog AltSearchEngines. Editor Charles Knight wrote a post in June reviewing health search engines (including a list of them) - his conclusion was that WebMD was best, but he also recommended revolutionhealth , CognitionSearch , Healthline , among others. TauMed is another one I've come across that I like. Finally, check out the Great Debate on health search engines on ASE.
Health 2.0 Blogs
Search is all very well for finding information, but what if you're after a more personal connection - or social groups.
The Diabetes Mine blog is a more personal day-to-day reflections blog about diabetes, by Amy Tenderich. The most recent post is very relevant to me - it's about being diagnosed with Type 1 in your mid-30's!
There are many more blogs related to health and technology - check out the blogrolls of the above sites, or a list such as this one.
So what can social networks provide for diabetics? As to be expected, there are a number of Facebook groups about Diabetes - over 500 of them in fact! The biggest is 'Find a Cure for Juvenile Diabetes', which has 5,470 members. I joined up to a few of these groups, but I wanted something more.
I eventually found Tu Diabetes, an online community for people with diabetes that was created in March 2007 by Manny Hernandez using Ning. Manny describes it as a place "where the members help each other out, educate ourselves and share the steps we take every day to stay healthy while living with this very serious condition." One person described Tu Diabetes as "like 'MySpace' on insulin"! The site recently reached 1,400 members and it is a great example of a niche social network, as the below introductory video from Manny explains:
Diabetes Web Apps
SugarStats is an app that allows you to track, monitor and share your blood sugar levels "and other key statistics" online. It is based out of Hawaii and was founded by Marston Alfred, who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes over 15 years ago. Normally diabetics have a paper journal in which they log the blood tests we are required to carry out 3-4 times a day. SugarStats has potentially very useful aggregation, graphing and trending tools, plus you can share your stats with relatives or other diabetics. SugarStats also has a mobile version - even Twitter integration!! For more reasons why online diabetes tracking is better than the paper-based version, see this post on the SugarStats blog.
There is a free and premium version from $8.29 per month (with extra features such as Food/Carb Tracking & Graphs, and SSL security). I've signed up to the free version to try it out, but I can see myself upgrading if it works well for me. Overall, SugarStats is an excellent use of web 2.0 to enhance healthcare treatment.
Health 2.0 Events
Getting back to health 2.0 in general, in recent years health 2.0 conferences and events have sprung up. There was a BarCamp-like event called HealthCamp at the end of last year (no sign of a follow-up event though). The Health 2.0 Conference was held on September 20th, 2007 in San Francisco. There's some good coverage of this event on the Diabetes Mine blog.
The next Health 2.0 conference is 3-4 March, 2008 in San Diego, and the topic is "Connecting Consumers & Providers". For more information see www.health2con.com.
This is a pretty indulgent post really - basically I needed to do research into diabetes management for my own purposes, and I have blogged what I discovered. But beyond that, I hope this post gives you a good idea of what is available on the Web when it comes to healthcare.
There are a lot of people much worse off than me, both in terms of diabetes (it's much tougher for children to cope with) and other health problems that people endure. Also it's still early stages in "health 2.0" - i.e. for some the Web may be of little use. But the Web is increasingly enhancing healthcare - certainly it is very useful with a condition such as diabetes, which is common worldwide and is something that can be managed on a daily basis.
I'm sure I've missed some health 2.0 and/or diabetes resources, so please add in the comments. Also if you want to discuss how the Web has helped you (or not) with a health issue you've experienced, then feel free to leave a comment.