Last week, the HFA Fellows had the remarkable opportunity to travel to Vancouver for the International Diabetes Federation 2015 World Diabetes Congress. The Congress is an opportunity for healthcare providers, researchers, diabetes educators, policy makers, and people living with diabetes to come together to explore the latest discoveries, trends, challenges, and opportunities in the realm of diabetes.
To be honest, the week was a whirlwind. Each day, we were hearing about the relationship between diabetes and topics like maternal health, peer support, obesity, food industry giants, social media, gastric bypass, indigenous populations, and more. Session after session, our team had so much to think about that a blog post about the entire experience might turn into a novel. Instead of attempting to cover every session, I’ll highlight a few key themes and insights that are sticking with me from the week.
Our stories are powerful.A number of speakers spoke about the importance of making space for personal stories in healthcare settings. Many spoke about the growing field of narrative medicine (now its own program at Columbia University), which seeks to create more meaningful interactions by giving permission to patients, physicians, educators, and caregivers to be their fullest selves—with all the stories, vulnerabilities, and hopes that entails. The Betes, a Brooklyn-based organization, which leads theatre-based therapeutic programming for people living with diabetes (check them out--I think they're super cool!). With these stories, however, comes a great responsibility to prevent negative narratives or what one speaker called “the grievance stories of diagnosis.” By focusing instead on education, support, and resilience, we can support people living diabetes in shaping positive personal narratives that lead to better self-care.
Experiential learning is highly effective. Benjamin Franklin once said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” For many speakers at the conference, this idea was the foundation of the argument in favor of experiential diabetes education. This kind of learning doesn’t take place solely in the exam room but out in the world, where people living with diabetes spend 99.99% of their time. Experiential learning gives individuals the tools they need to make healthy decisions for themselves in the context of their real lives. Jen Hanson, of the Canadian organization Connected in Motion, explained that this is a powerful and dynamic cycle which includes concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.
Things change when we start thinking about flourishing rather than just coping. This idea was put forth by IDF award recipient, Riva Greenberg, who argues this paradigm shift has the potential to dramatically change relationships between patients and providers and to ultimately improve health outcomes. When we set out to help people living with chronic conditions flourish rather than just cope, these individuals become empowered partners in their own care. In collaboration with their healthcare provider, they're able to enthusiastically build upon what’s working and what’s desired, rather than taking a fear-based approach that focuses on avoiding complications.
While none of these themes suggests a be-all, end-all solution to the challenges of type 2 diabetes in our world (and yes, it is a challenge of global proportions), the Fellows have been thinking hard about the ideas presented at the conference and how they might impact the solution we create. We'll keep you posted on the discoveries, pivots, and progress we make through the coming months as we begin to focus more of our attention on ideating, iterating, and implementing!