HelpAround: A Crowdsourced Safety Net for People With Diabetes

My husband Mike and I both have type 1 diabetes. A few months ago, after a very hectic day, we went out to dinner to celebrate Mike’s birthday.  We were really looking forward to a quiet relaxing evening.  Of course, both of us are well aware that dining out with diabetes is not always relaxing.  

We started our evening out at the restaurant bar while we waited for a table.  We looked at the menu for a minute, talked about cocktail choices, and then Mike said, “Shit, I don’t have my glucometer.”  He wasn’t okay, and I knew it.  “I think I’m low,” he said.

HelpAround diabetes
 

I reached into my bag for my glucometer, and as I felt around for it I remembered that I’d done my last blood glucose check at my desk.  When I’d grabbed my things to go out, I hadn’t put my glucometer in my bag.  

Two diabetics out for dinner and no way to check blood sugar.

That wasn’t the first time we’d had a diabetes supply crisis.  Last July, while attending the Children With Diabetes conference in Orlando, Mike and I lost all of our insulin.  We’d had to switch rooms in the hotel and forgot to take the insulin out of the refrigerator when we moved to our new room.  By the time we realized this, Mike’s insulin pump reservoir was empty and he’d pulled out his infusion set.  He was completely disconnected.

Mike was half fuming and half panicked.  I stayed fairly calm, called the hotel management to ask for help locating the insulin, and then I went straight to Facebook.  Many of my Facebook friends were also at the Children With Diabetes conference.  I knew someone would be able to help, and that fact was so reassuring.  It is, after all, very disconcerting to know that you’ve lost the very thing you need to stay alive.  

Within a few minutes I had replies from several Facebook friends offering insulin.  There were tears of gratitude in my eyes.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about what we’d do if something like this happened when we weren’t at a conference full of people with diabetes.  Who would help us out?  I didn’t know it at the time, but a new social app, HelpAround.co, was created to help people in exactly situations like this.

 Helparound

Founded by Yishai Knobel, the former head of Mobile Health at the diabetes tech startup AgaMatrix, and Shlomi Aflalo, former VP R&D at advertising technology startup eXelate, HelpAround is a Tel-Aviv based startup that crawls social networks to figure out who can help you when you’re in need.  The inspiration for HelpAround came from entrepreneur Robert Oringer, the father of two sons with diabetes.

Several years ago, Robert took his younger son to an NHL game at the Bell Centre in Montreal—an arena seating more than 21,000 fans. Upon arriving at their seats, his son realized that he had forgotten to bring his diabetes supply bag with his meter, lancing device, glucose tabs, and emergency glucagon. In one of those diabetes “find a solution fast” moments, Robert quickly considered the alternatives— leave the arena and drive back home (too far), head over to the nearest pharmacy (also far and likely costly), or try to locate someone else in the arena with diabetes willing to help, if necessary, with supplies.  That night, Robert decided to “roll the dice” and stay at the arena with his son to watch the game while simultaneously observing his son for signs that his blood sugar might be high or low.  

While his son enjoyed the game, Robert spent the game (and the drive home) thinking how mobile phone technology could be used to discreetly identify and reach out to other people nearby with diabetes for help.  With more than 21,000 people in the arena, based purely on percentages, there surely must have been several hundred people with diabetes that night who could have assisted. Thanks to HelpAround, that thought is no longer a “what-if,” it’s a real option.  

So, are you wondering how HelpAround can know enough about you to connect you to people in your network?  Maybe you’ve noticed that ads for shoes come up on your screen after you’ve done a search for shoes.  Companies know a lot about you and Shlomi Aflalo’s background in behavioral ad targeting makes him an expert in this industry.  What makes him different, though, is that rather than using the data he can collect about you to sell you products, with HelpAround, he is using that data for the exclusive purpose of helping you.

HelpAround is part of the growing sharing economy, where people share underutilized resources with others.  Some of the famous services out there are AirBnB, where individuals rent unoccupied living space and other short-term lodging to guests, and Lyft, a company whose Smartphone App facilitates peer-to-peer ridesharing by enabling passengers who need a ride to request one from drivers who have a car.

Robin Chase, founder of car sharing service, ZipCar, coined the phrase “revealing abundance” to describe the mission of the peer economy.  However, HelpAround is taking this mission to the next level, where the shared resource is not just an underutilized asset but the actual skill, knowledge, and availability of a nearby peer.

Knobel told me that HelpAround is seeing staggering demand among healthcare organizations – cancer patients, asthma, allergy sufferers, and others, who are looking to provide a location-based safety net and peer support to their patients.

Knobel says that the platform is still in development and will remain free at least through 2014, especially as the team looks for inputs from passionate, high-solidarity communities.  


I have no doubt that HelpAround will benefit the diabetes community. Our lives depend on supplies, after all, but with our busy lifestyles and scattered minds, forgetting something is a real risk.  As we begin to use HelpAround, other communities will learn and become inspired by the solidarity among people with diabetes.  With HelpAround, our community is poised to become the first crowdsourced safety net out there, and it will set the bar high for additional patient communities.

Sign up for HelpAround now: http://diabetes.helparound.co 

Find HelpAround on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Apple is cofounder and editor in chief of ASweetLife.  She writes the blog The Natural Diabetic.

Comments (3)

  1. Jennifer Jacobs
    jen at

    This is awesome! I once asked someone at work for test strips because my tube ran out in the middle of the day. I felt shy about asking her because I had only heard from someone else that she had diabetes; we had never actually spoken about it. When I asked her, she told me that she had prediabetes, and that she didn’t really test, hence, no test strips. I felt a little embarrassed for putting her on the spot, and also for advertising the fact that I wasn’t prepared. This would’ve been a perfect time to use HelpAround!

  2. Elizabeth at

    Very cool – while there may not be too many people in Singapore with Helparound – I am going to give it a go to see what happens.  What a needs-based inspirational product!  -Elizabeth Snouffer

  3. Libby at

    THANK GOD FOR YOU GUYS! I have gotten myself into trouble so many times all over the globe and I’ve always wondered how on earth I could be bailed out. I think my mom (8 yrs later now) is still pissed at me for the time I left a box of test strips on the roof of our car as we were driving to the airport to fly to the London from Boston. That was an expensive boo boo.

    At work I have 2 buddies that I can go to for back up, we’ve often bummed test strips off of one another. This is great, but if I’m traveling for work or am in a new place, having the confidence that a nasty situation could be remedied is a huge reassurance. 

    I have a blog about 20 somethings with diabetes and am about to do a piece about apps and helpful technology. This will certainly be at the top of the list!  

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