The ritual begins every morning. A spring-loaded pen that pricks the surface of my skin to produce a drop of blood. That blood is then drawn into a test strip to reveal my sugar level. On some days, I’m ecstatic. The healthy salmon I consumed at dinner and the rigorous exercise from the evening before yields a blood sugar number that is text book perfect. On other days, the numbers are such that Demosthenes would have stammered. A poor diet or missed exercise and the whole plan falls apart.
As Oscar Wilde put it, “I can resist everything except temptation.”
I’ve lived with diabetes for almost two decades. It is a deadly disease and plays havoc on my physical and mental health. At first, I didn’t take it seriously. After all, I was confident that there’s nothing a dose of Metformin can’t control. But today, with four daily injections, an SGLT-2, and the highest dose of Metformin, I feel defeated and dejected, even depressed.
There are nights when cold sweat wakes me out of a deep slumber, warning that a glucose tablet must be consumed immediately to ward off the possibility of a coma. There are times when it’s too painful to walk, as the sensation of a thousand needle pricks engulf my feet. I share these very personal experiences to make a point: Innovation is meaningless if we don’t consider the practical and emotional needs of our patients on par with the clinical impact medicines and technologies can have on their lives.
Successful innovation should address the entire patient experience—what are the quality of life outcomes—the happiness outcomes? At the recent Forbes Healthcare Summit in NYC, during a panel discussion of the top pharmaceutical companies, a young man raised his hand and asked, “I have a rare cancer. What can you do for me?” The panelists and audience were in the middle of a drug pricing debate, and it was a heart-breaking reminder of why we all do this work.
Everyone in our industry talks about addressing needs. And while new medications have made advances in diabetes treatment, many have a plethora of side effects that make these medicines less than ideal. As a patient, and as a consumer, and as someone who has talked to other diabetics, I am keenly aware that there are emotional needs to this disease.
I dream of a world free of needles and one where the disease can be controlled chronically without side effects, if not cured. I dream of advances that make it possible to consume one tablet or take an injection a year and then to forget about the disease or its debilitating effects.
My ask is for healthcare companies to take the time to speak with patients before you innovate, so you can understand our daily struggles, discomforts and wishes. Don’t go for quick fixes or incremental solutions. Leapfrog and help us beat our diseases—with determination and with dignity.