Diabetes Forecast

People to Know 2017: Reece and Olivia Ohmer

By Joyce Lee, MD, MPH ,

Reece, left, and Olivia Ohmer, right
Photograph courtesy of naturallysweetsisters.com

I was introduced to the Ohmers in 2014. The social worker for our clinic had put us in touch because the two sisters with type 1 diabetes created and shared a tool to help plan their diabetes clinic visits. I was impressed with their desire to improve diabetes care, so I invited them to serve as patient experts at a design workshop sponsored by Healthdesignby.us, a patient-centered design collaborative.

There, Reece, now 16, and Olivia, now 13, shared aspects of life with diabetes that they wanted to change. “I was really frustrated with texting blood sugars to my mom and dad,” Reece says. This led the group to focus on solutions to improve communication, developing the concept for a mobile application called Diabetes Emoticons.

Reece and Olivia helped create content for the app, contributing ideas and sample drawings of emoticons—the smileys and other objects on your phone’s keyboard—for the everyday issues people with diabetes face.

Then, with the help of students from the University of Michigan, Healthdesignby.us developed an app that allows users to send emoticons by text message: a meter to symbolize blood glucose checks, for instance, or an insulin pump infusion set to illustrate site changes.

The app, now called Diabetes Emoticon Stickers, quickly became a favorite with the Ohmers and their friends. “Diabetes emoticons have no age limits,” Reece says. “Our neighbor has had type 1 diabetes for 40 years, and she was so excited to share these emoticons with her family.”

Reece and Olivia aren’t done helping other people with diabetes. They recently worked with other teens on a second version of the Diabetes Emoticon Stickers app at a JDRF teen camp. Looking further ahead, Reece plans to go to college to become a doctor so she can “help kids feel better both physically and emotionally.”

Olivia’s future plans are similarly ambitious: “There’s a type 1 diabetes cure waiting to be found,” she says. “And I think I can do it.”

The latest version of the Diabetes Emoticon Stickers app is available from the Apple App Store. Download, activate in iMessage, and use them in texts. Learn more at diabetesemoticons.com.

The Author: Joyce Lee, MD, MPH, the Robert P. Kelch Research Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, is a diabetes specialist, researcher, and designer. Her work focuses on creating learning health systems, studying health applications of mobile technology and social media, and integrating design and the maker movement into health care. Find her on Twitter as @joyclee and online at doctorasdesigner.com.



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