They came out in droves! I was shocked to see how many people were fleeting to the entrance of the convention center. If I didn’t know what was happening I’d have thought a rock concert may have been about to begin. The truth is that the enormous number of people entering the convention center were there for a very specific and important issue…Diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is hosting Expo’s across the country providing information and resources to the ever increasing number of people diagnosed with Diabetes. It’s epidemic proportions and as a culture we certainly need to address the factors that provide the gateway for Diabetes to creep in.
I’m thankful for organizations such as the ADA for providing tremendous access to resources that can help each person with Diabetes lead a better and more healthful life. I’m amazed that so many people were coming out to seek out information and resources to improve their lives. I guess the first question I have is “how much do the people at the Expo understand about their disease process?” and “what are their personal internal resources to utilize the information provided?”
The Expo model for educating anyone with a chronic or life-threatening illness is a questionable attempt at educating the public. I walked around the Expo hall and was amazed at the following observations:
1. The number of people attending talks was minimal. Of course some of that could have been that the speakers were speaking under less than optimal circumstances. They were on stages in the corners of the expo center, using microphones, but competing against the loud voices throughout the hall. It was so distracting that the speakers could barely hear the questions from the audience. The “educational” component of the expo was counter-productive for most of the attendees.
2. There were so many booths by manufacturers of glucose meters that it felt like one infomercial after the other. My concern is that like the ads in the magazines, the companies who make the meters are trying a bottom up model of sales. They are hoping to get the patient to go to the doctor and prescribe their meter for monitoring their glucose levels. Here’s the problem…by the end of the day if the attendee walked through the expo hall they would have obtained information on at least 8 different glucose meters. What are they going to do with that information? How will they discriminate between what’s a good meter and what’s a good meter for them? Will this encourage Expo participants to ask their doctors? That’s my hope, but my experience is that the patient gets overwhelmed and disheartened about their disease because it’s too much information.
3. A high percentage of those attending were good Expo attendees; they got bags of information, traveled from table to table picking up samples of products and feeling like they hit the jackpot. If we went to the majority of the attendees homes we’d find that the information stays in the bag until it’s ready to throw it out. The attendees are overwhelmed by the amount of information and furthermore they aren’t prepared to sift through the mounds of information in a mindful manner that will serve to better their health and their lives. Of course there are some exceptions but they are in the minority. It was about the free bag of brown rice or energy drink that got people’s attention.
I’m all for education and public awareness, but let’s do it in a way that truly encourages patient participation. It’s crucial for the patients and providers to meet in an environment that isn’t like playing “supermarket sweep” and provide them with opportunities to ask unhurried questions.
I will say this, the ADA did have certified diabetes educators where patients could ask questions one-on-one. That’s a good start, but not beneficial for the masses. My hope is that organizations providing this type of information consider making a more meaningful impact even if it means reaching fewer people. If we set the standards higher for how we obtain information I believe we can create role models and goal models for living healthier lives.