Have you got game? Thanks to a little mobile application called mySugr Companion, more than 50,000 people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) do. Launched in Europe last year and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January 2013, mySugr Companion is a diabetes-management app that helps people with insulin-treated diabetes take control of their therapy through play. One of the first registered medical devices in the iPhone App Store (an Android version will be released this year), Companion is now the top diabetes-management iPhone app in six European countries and the United States.
So what it is that has made Companion so instantly popular? Just like the tagline says: Diabetes Management Made Fun … Almost! Take it all in Anyone with T1D can tell you that managing the disease requires more than just testing and dosing. It requires regular analysis—and sometimes reanalysis—of patterns in blood-glucose levels. That can be a daunting responsibility. Companion makes it easier by giving a panoramic view of all the facts that may come into play in T1D management. In addition to the numbers—blood-glucose levels, bolus amounts, carb counts—you can also make a record of the fine details, like the placement of an infusion set or sensor on any given day, changes in how you’re feeling, and photos of meals. The app can also create customized PDF reports for emailing to a user’s healthcare team. “Having the raw data in this larger context makes for much easier pattern analysis. Companion doesn’t just show you that you were lower than average this week, it also helps you figure out why you were low,” says Kyle Rose, managing director of mySugr U.S. “People with diabetes want practical, impactful, and fun data-management solutions, which large healthcare companies have simply been unable to produce. Our fellow people with diabetes played a major role in developing Companion, and we will do everything we can to keep them happy.” The entire management team at mySugr, including Kyle, have T1D—and they all use Companion themselves.
Join the movement Fifty-thousand users (a number that mySugr expects will double by the end of 2013) can’t be wrong. But the company has science on its side as well. A three-month study by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and INSEAD Healthcare Management showed that users of Companion increased their blood-glucose testing frequency by 10 to 20 percent; ended the study with a hemoglobin A1c decrease of 0.4 to 1.1 percent; and experienced improvement in both quality of life and burden of disease. Not only that, Companion users stick to the program. As Companion’s inventors saw it, it’s one thing to maintain improved health-management behaviors for a while, but, like many a New Year’s resolution, it can be much harder to transform those behaviors into lasting habits. In the Vienna study, Companion users maintained 85 percent retention after three months—impressively high among disease-management apps. The concept is simple—instead of being a chore, Companion makes T1D management into a game. Every action you take, which you then log in the app, awards points. Reach 50 points in a day, and you tame the diabetes monster. (Literally—the app’s mascot is an animated green character that accompanies the user along the way to every T1D goal.) Another effect of mySugr’s management-as-game approach: it may help take the stress off. The team at mySugr designed Companion with the goal of not only motivating users toward their personal best in T1D management but also steering them away from the sense of discouragement that can come with an out-of-range number. “The diabetes monster makes faces as you’re logging, and its reaction when you enter a ‘hypo’ makes most of us laugh,” says Kyle. “Cracking a smile can often be enough to make living with diabetes just a wee bit easier. That’s what mySugr is all about.” Have a child with T1D? It can be very hard to pry an iPhone out of a kindergartner’s sticky hands, but at least with Companion Junior—the children’s version of the app—your little one can play games and learn about T1D management. Challenge accepted For most mobile-game players, the aim is to reach higher and higher levels. With mySugr Companion, there are the Challenges—earn enough points, and you may also win free months of the mySugr Pro Package. Users’ favorite Challenge so far is Sweat for a Cure. Working with JDRF UK, mySugr launched this special Challenge in January 2013. Just like the name sounds, the idea of this Challenge is to get people up and moving. But it delivers a little extra motivation: while you rack up points becoming a champion of glucose control, you can also score real points for a T1D cure. Every month, mySugr makes a donation to a JDRF research project based on the number of points earned collectively by Sweat for a Cure participants. The more you sweat, the more points you earn, the more money JDRF researchers receive. The maximum monthly donation is 500 Euros (about $650), and more often than not, Sweat for a Cure players reach that goal. Ready to set (and reach) some goals of your own? Visit the mySugr website for more information and to download Companion.