TuDiabetes and the power of patients

In my last post I talked about the unfolding situation in diabetes (fewer endocrinologists) and how individuals will increasingly need to take more control of their care. That brings me to TuDiabetes and Manny Hernandez.

TuDiabetesManny is a prime example of the new patient generation – involved, connected, motivated. He has created two social networks for those with diabetes, TuDiabetes for English-speakers and EstuDiabetes for those who speak Spanish. The purpose of both is the same: provide a way for those living with diabetes to connect, share information, trade stories and understand that they are not alone in their daily struggles.

Manny recognized the need for this group after attending a pumpers’ meeting in 2006 and listening to story after story from others in the room. It was eye opening because prior to that meeting he had met very few people with diabetes. He learned so much in that one hour that he decided he must put his Web skills to use and create an online forum to connect diabetics. TuDiabetes was born using Ning (a free social network builder) in March 2007. Today TuDiabetes has nearly 4,000 members and is growing daily.

Shortly after the launch, a member posted a suggestion that he thought would encourage people touched by diabetes to communicate how their lives had been changed by the disease. The idea was simple: write a word on your hand that described your feelings about diabetes, take a photo of the hand and share with others via TuDiabetes. The Word in Your Hand project quickly took off and resulted in a contest that inspired hundreds of entries in honor of World Diabetes Day.

The project also caught the eye of a LifeScan representative who approached Manny at an ADA-sponsored Expo earlier this year. Lifescan, a Johnson & Johnson company, manufactures the OneTouch Glucose Meter and was interested in partnering with TuDiabetes to help take the Word In Your Hand project and related communities to the next level. If you visit the OneTouch site today, you’ll see the result – a whole section dedicated to Sharing – the root of all social networking - which features information about TuDiabetes and Word in Your Hand.

The relationship with Lifescan has been warmly received by the TuDiabetes community, which proves that when done correctly, partnerships between Big Pharma and patients can work. Manny was upfront about the arrangement, taking care to issue a note to members explaining the rationale and to assure them that the communities would remain independent. The promotion with OneTouch has brought new members to the network and provided much-needed financial resources to enable Manny to start the Diabetes Hands Foundation, a non-profit through which he and his wife Andreina now run the two communities full-time.

Speaking to Manny was inspiring. He is so committed to the cause. In addition to the social networks, he has created a monthly e-newsletter, printed materials and recently launched an awareness campaign for children called Drawing Diabetes. My bet is that TuDiabetes will grow into a worldwide organization and become an important source of information and data for patients and physicians.

And since the point of this blog is to highlight ways industry can participate with social media, big kudos to LifeScan for recognizing the importance and power of TuDiabetes and the Word in Your Hand project.

If you would like to reach out to Manny as well, email him at manny [at] tudiabetes [dot] org.