Since it was set up six years ago, SocialDiabetes has become one of the main applications for diabetes in the world. It has users in 20 different countries, has 11 languages available and is used in hospitals like Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona and the UK health system. In the pharmaceutical industry, Sanofi, the US Abbot and the Italian Menarini group also use the app.
All of this is what has made them one of the main companies at the Health 2.0 Europe 2017 congress currently being held in Barcelona (from May 3 to 5). They have managed this due to the speed at which their tool has penetrated the market, a feat achieved thanks to the fact that one of their founders is diabetic. "Víctor suffers from the illness and is a programmer, which means our evolution has been constant and steady," says the CEO and cofounder, María Salido.
She will be the one to present a novelty at the fair: "The demo with which doctors can monitor the information from patients in real time." It is another advance for a mobile app that has revolutionised management of the illness by, as she says, "it being a product connected to the Internet of Things, with glucose meters, smart watches and Fitbits, so that patients no longer have to become weighed down with stuff."
Has having a diabetic on the team been instrumental in standing out in the market?
Yes, it makes the difference in everything we do. The pharmaceutical industry values this closeness to the patient; having money does not provide the ability to understand who your market is. From the point of view of the product, we think about the patient and connect them to the doctor. When the person affected is the one who is developing the solution, you include the final user in the process and you know that it will be a 100% useful tool because it covers real needs. In the end, it makes the product more attractive for everyone, it gathers data that the patient has to know and that helps them.
Does moving the management of an illness to the telephone help to normalise it?
It normalises it and makes everything more discreet. As we have all the gadgets connected to the phone, you can measure blood sugar levels and get the result on the phone or watch, just like if you want to talk to someone on WhatsApp or check your email. We now want to create our own social network for patients in order to complete the emotional experience. We want to connect the patient with everything around them, with telemedicine, the family... that is why we want the social network to connect the user to this entire community around them to monitor the information.
What role does technology play in preventing illnesses?
In the case of diabetes it cannot be prevented, but technology does help with complications. SocialDiabetes keeps the patient on a healthy footing and that prevents the other illnesses that come from diabetes. Our vocation is for the user to get personalised recommendations and for the doctor to have aggregated data that will be useful for their work.
Salido and Bautista are the founders of SocialDiabetes. Ceded
Is a secondary benefit that it helps the health system to make savings?
On the one hand, the system makes savings because diabetes accounts for 12% of global health costs. There are countries that go bankrupt due to this illness. Telemedicine provides a lot of advantages: you avoid unnecessary trips and through video-conferencing and with your records stored in the cloud, the doctor can attend to someone from anywhere. What's more, between visits, the doctor does not know if their patient is all right or is following the treatment. With SocialDiabetes that does not happen because the health professional can consult the patient's data in real time and so monitor them and keep an eye on those people he or she knows might run into complications, as well as programming alarms.
Who is the main client, the patient or the doctor?
They feed into each other. The patient comes first, as they want to feel safe and find the app by searching on the Internet. When it comes to the doctor's visit, there is no longer any paper, they have SocialDiabetes with all their data gathered together. This is where the doctor finds out about the tool. It is a dynamic that turns the old system on its head; before it was the health professionals who showed the patient what they had to do. When this patient leaves the surgery and another enters, then now the doctor prescribes the appliation. It is a natural cycle that has made us grow, we haven't invested anything in marketing, it has all come from people recommending us.
Yet, alliances with the industry have also been important.
Of course. We have two business models. One is paying to download the premium version, which the patient can do or the organisation or company providing the licence as a promotion to their clients. It can be a hospital, a mobile telephone company or a firm marketing products for diabetics, such as Diabalance. The other model is more targeted at exploiting the data and we are still exploring this. It is designed, for example, for an insurance company that wants to reduce the cost of insuring a diabetic.
Can a medical tool be useful for other markets?
If it is well developed, in the sense of knowing the patient well, yes. For the moment we are mostly working with pharmaceutical firms, but the idea is to go further. For the moment, we are just one of two unique appliations in the world that allows Abbot to monitor the blood sugar levels of its subjects. Connecting to us allows them to be stronger than the competition and to gather more information about the illness. We do all of this following two rules: we will never see the user as a resource for our service and bother them and we will always be independent. We will never become someone else's app, although we will work with everyone.
You have got this far with your own funds. Has the grant the European Union just awarded you come too late?
It is never too late to get help. It is true we have not received any funding, but this grant is a recognition of our trajectory and capacity to continue developing the business model. We will devote the money to our international profile and developing machine learning because we really want to achieve personalised medicine, which we believe is the trend. Diabetes is an illness of data. If you control the data, you control the illness.