The American Diabetes Association estimates that almost 30 million Americans, or nearly 10% of the population, currently have diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed). While diabetes treatment historically has been on a very siloed and individual basis between a patient and a physician, new business models have emerged that enable this large population of diabetes patients to connect with one another, form communities, and leverage crowd wisdom to help manage life with diabetes.
Foremost among these organizations is the non-profit DLife Foundation, which serves as an online facilitated network for diabetes patients to connect and learn about their disease. While DLife has gradually evolved from its origins of mostly crowdsourced content towards a more curated content model, connecting community members and engaging them in vibrant discussions with one another remains a cornerstone of the model. In addition to the forums in which users share information, DLife provides a half-hour long weekly television show to users as well as general educational materials about diabetes.
In some sense, incentivizing participation is relatively straightforward. Newly diagnosed diabetes patients are likely naturally very curious about their disease, and about how to manage it on a day to day basis in a healthy way. The best source for this information? In many cases, other patients who have been living with similar experiences! DLife provides this forum to share knowledge, but must also ensure that the content created is meaningful and useful for users. The natural bond between patients of the same disease encourages contribution to the platform as well as user participation, but comes with the delicate balance of managing medical advice.
This represents the biggest challenge in my mind – ensuring that disseminated information is medically relevant and accurate isn’t always black and white. Of course, users can submit diabetes-friendly recipes and such without a great deal of risk, even exercise tips and blood sugar management can be managed pretty effectively from a crowdsourcing standpoint, but a gray area really comes into play when it comes to medical treatment options. This is an area where DLife seems to have cracked down pretty hard. All of the aforementioned suggestions are allowed on the website, but you won’t find any medical advice given. Admittedly, this can be a fine line sometimes, but DLife seems to adamantly maintain that treatment decisions should be made between patients and their physicians. Secondly, getting a critical mass of users to share very personal health information on the platform has been a challenge. DLife used to actually air its weekly television show on NBC, but now it is internet-only, perhaps because of the sometimes private nature of diabetes patients. I see this latter challenge as something that will change with a new generation of patients more comfortable with online social networks around diabetes, but the former challenge will have to be continually and actively managed into the foreseeable future.
DLife creates value for users through its content, and captures it through a lean economic model as a nonprofit, supporting its platform with advertising dollars. I think this is the best way to go about ensuring sustainability and growth because diabetes patients do indeed represent a large and specific target market. Many companies make food and medical products tailored toward diabetes patients and likely see quite a bit of value in advertising with DLife. As the diabetes population within the United States grows larger, and generations of diabetics become more tech-saavy and internet/social-networking friendly, I see DLife as a valuable resource for diabetic patients seeking to improve their lifestyle and management of their disease.