Type 2 diabetic Herb Meehan is healthy because of his wife, and he’s found a way to share her loving, nagging ways with the whole world.
“My wife, Maryam is really on me about testing and taking care of myself,” says Meehan, 40. “As far as diabetes goes, she’s really whipped me into shape. She’s got me into the habit of testing regularly, through caring and encouragement.”
Maryam is Meehan’s inspiration for Lifebringer. Lifebringer is a free, interactive web-based app for type 1 and 2 diabetics, as well as newly diagnosed diabetics, that goes beyond simply tracking blood sugars and organizing numbers input users. It also uses Meehan’s program, called Nagbot, to interact with the user. Nagbot sends encouraging emails to the user over their computer, tablet, or mobile device reminding them to test, or letting them know how they’re doing, and suggesting ways to improve their health. Nagbot, in other words, acts as a helpful companion.
“When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1999 it was like being dropped off at an airport in a foreign country with five dollars in my pocket,” Meehan says. “There weren’t a lot of helpful resources on the web.”
“I didn’t want another glorified, cold spreadsheet that you would just dump numbers into,” says Meehan, a computer programmer and software developer for more than 20 years. “I want software to actually tell a person how they are doing, and make suggestions on how to be better. Nagbot is a virtual caregiver. He will talk to you in clear English, nag you to test, and email reports and inventory threshold warnings.”
The website and interface are deceptively simple. Users sign up by putting in very little information beyond name and email. And, once signed up, blood sugar results are the only information Lifebringer needs from the user to generate A1C estimates, generate reports on trends, and report back on average blood sugar results. This simplicity is by design.
“To get diabetics to get in the habit of testing, I streamlined the entire data entry process,’ Meehan says. “I didn’t want this to be like a gym with tons of equipment, only to have the person leave after a day because it feels like a second job.”
Meehan speaks from personal experience. Before launching Lifebringer in 2013 he designed a Windows-based program in 2003 called Diabetic Software. Users paid $40 and input information on medication, exercise, diet, mood, weight, and more. They could then view pie charts, bar graphs, and other colorful, fancy outputs telling them about their health.
“It was insane,” Meehan says. “It required too much of the user. The people who signed up almost always dropped out after two months. It was like a second job for them.”
Another thing that kept people from using that app was that it wasn’t free. Lifebringer, on the other hand is free to use. It also doesn’t have ads. That doesn’t mean it’s not costing Meehan anything.
“I’m doing everything myself,” Meehan says. “Web hosting is costing me $200 a month, but, I want this to be web-based and not a mobile app because the data on a mobile app isn’t retained.”
To cover his costs for the next two to three years, and continue to develop Lifebringer, Meehan has started a Kickstarter campaign that ends June 24.
For Meehan, it’s vital that Lifebringer remain free. Meehan says not charging money for the app means that diabetics, especially type 2 diabetics, will have one less reason to not use it.
“My experience is that some type 2 diabetics will use any excuse to not test, and not be as disciplined in their own care as they need to be. A lot of type 2 diabetics are diagnosed later in life, which makes it harder for them to be responsible. They’ve lived a life where there were no rules when it came to medication, testing, and their diet—generally speaking, of course.”
Meehan lost vision in one eye due, in part, to poor control of his type 2 diabetes, so he knows what he’s talking about. His diabetes management, and his health, significantly improved only after he met his wife because she encouraged, cajoled, and nagged him to take better care of himself.
“The help she gives me,” Meehan says, “has turned my life around. I want everyone to have what I have.”
Alex O’Meara is a regular contributor to ASweetLife. He writes the blog The Other Side of Diabetes.