Monday, January 13, 2014

Medtronic Diabetes Advocate Forum 2014.

This past weekend marked the third of Medtronic's "Diabetes Advocate Forum" events; the second of which I have attended (disclosure). I love being in a room full of friends - some I'd only just finally met/hugged in person - where our combined passions in the world of diabetes cause the air to tingle with purpose and potential. The room buzzed and pulsed with a sense of urgency, that with our powers combined (and I'm talking our whole community here - not just those physically in the room) we really can enact the change we want to see. We are willing to do the work. We want to motivate action. We want to be a vehicle for another PWD to find and feel the "me, too" of our community.

To paraphrase one of the event's speakers, we're all in the business of "hell yes".

Image courtesy of Medtronic Diabetes' Twitter feed. 

Like at 2012's Forum, I was again struck by the graciousness, openness, and genuine care with which the Medtronic Diabetes team crafted this event and responded to our concerns and feedback.

I expressed this to a member of Medtronic's PR team, and I'll say it again here: I recognize how difficult it must be to orchestrate an event like this one; to invite us into their home. As a group of advocates, we're documenting the whole event live (#MedtronicDAF); quoting sometimes word-for-word the candid responses to our questions (many of which may be very uncomfortable to answer). No matter what speakers, sessions, tours, food or conversations are scheduled, you can't make everyone happy as we all have different priorities and interests. Few to none of us care about making Medtronic look good; what we are interested in is how Medtronic is helping the diabetes community, and if we think they aren't, we're going to express that* to the room, and to the world. (And oh buddy, did we.)

Something felt different to me about this one.

I've attended events like this in the past and there are times where as I'm boarding my flight home, I think, "It was great to see my friends - but what did we really accomplish? What actionable items are we going home to work on? Why did I take vacation days from work (and now, time away from my 5 month-old) for what felt like mostly just a sales pitch?" If you refer to it as an "Advocate Forum", you have to deliver on that
moniker. If you invite people who identify themselves as advocates, you should be doing what is in your power to enable us to do that work.

Some important things to note about how Medronic Diabetes communicates:

  • When it comes to using the verbiage "Artificial Pancreas" in their marketing of the 530G system and correcting the places in other media where the AP term was used too liberally, they know they've messed up. "We know, and we're learning." The AP language was used in the FDA's approval of the device, so that's where Medtronic took its cues from. But, as many in the room expressed, there is a difference between "can" and "should". The use of the term is inappropriate and misleading.
  • And in order to learn - they listen. What we see is a small percentage of all the wheels turning behind the curtain, and what I saw when that curtain was lifted is reassuring. They may not get everything right, but they try. (One session included their PR team showing us some of their past Facebook and Twitter posts, and asking us what we liked/didn't like about what they did, and what we'd like to see instead.)
  • They are listening to not just their own customers, but viewpoints from every direction. Many of us in attendance don't use Medtronic products and many faces were new to the event this time around. Coming into this event with a Dexcom CGM and a Tandem insulin pump could have been weird, but it never felt that way. I actually did a cartridge change while Dr. Fran Kaufman and one of the speakers stood directly in front of my table, a mere two feet away. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, I felt respected.
  • They value the feedback they receive, even when it isn't good. Which, btw, can I make a request of y'all here? Instead of saying something like "I HATE YOUR PUMP!", take a step back and think about why. Let's be constructive in our feedback please (did Steve tell you that, perchance?) and tell them why we don't like certain features, and offer what might meet our needs better. For example: "I still can't hear the alarms when I sleep because they aren't loud enough/the pump is under my pillow when I sleep/I've gotten too used to the sounds. A broadened spectrum of alarm sounds and volumes or integration with my phone (because I wake up to my phone's alarms) would help this pump fit into my life better". There's a way to express your discontent without losing your shit or being disrespectful, and I'd encourage us all to strive for that. ::steps off soapbox::

I thought Medtronic did a nice job of making sure we could ask what we wanted to ask of the people who could directly answer our questions, and covering a broad spectrum of concerns. For example, the very first night of the Forum I was introduced to Mike Gill, Vice President of US Sales and Service for Medtronic Diabetes and asked about my experience with Enlite. It's something I appreciated during the 2012 Forum, and again this time.

Foremost in my mind, though, is that Medtronic not only assembled us but scheduled time for us to work on some of our own discussion points: essentially half of our time on Saturday. A session led by Bennet, Scott, and George saw a structured brainstorm of where we want to focus our efforts, how we can engage the diabetes community in evolving ways going forward, etc. And then the last hour of the Forum, which was one of my most favorite parts. It was essentially an "unconference" in which we were brought together, but under no predetermined structure. We were encouraged to interact with our peers about topics of our choosing; this time, on the upcoming Spare A Rose campaign (stay tuned for details) and it was magical. I wish someone had gotten video of it. It was this beautiful conversation of "how can we do this?" and then someone would have an idea but not have the connections to execute it. But then two people would volunteer, "I know someone! I'm emailing them now", and someone else would spin that idea off to something else, and a team would form to take care of that part. "But have we thought of..." and before a sentence could finish, someone else nodded and said, "I'm on it." By the time we were done, a pretty big, multi-level plan was in place.

"Hell yes" indeed.

I enjoy seeing what our community can do when we unite our voices; how a chorus can be heard so much more easily than a solo performance. It doesn't mean that we all need to get behind every intitiative, but it means that where we can, we should. My thanks go to Medtronic Diabetes and Bayer Health for footing the bill to get us all together in a space where that could happen. 

One last takeaway? That I need to map out a quantitative strategy for the advocacy I want to do in 2014, and not shy away from asking for help with it. People can't help you if you don't give them the opportunity and specifics with which to do so.

(Being assertive is a good thing - just ask Mean Scott.)

[Disclosure, as referenced above: Medtronic Diabetes and Bayer Health paid for my hotel, flights, and food while in the Los Angeles area. I was not asked to write about the Forum, and opinions are always my own.]

*Introspective observation: at the last Medtronic Diabetes Advocate Forum, I felt downright intimidated. I wasn't sure why I was there, and felt inadequate in my efforts; the quality of my questions and concerns; my ability to even get a word in among so many vocal advocates. I must be leaving my cocoon, as it were, because my experience at this Forum was full of the self-assurance, ease of speaking my mind, and occasional wearing of sassy pants that had previously only been the stuff of my dreams. Something's changed - age, becoming a mom, having success in some of my advocacy efforts, already having rapport with some Medtronic employees, I don't know - and my goodness, does it feel gooooood.


  1. Kim, I'm so glad you were able to attend this event, and I'm glad it was such a positive experience. I'm looking forward to what the future will bring.

  2. +1 to all of this. Perfectly said.

    UPVOTE! ;)

  3. As sometime who had never been to aMedtronic event before, I still felt the magic. I can't wait to write about it. I think we broke ground in a great way!

  4. Great post, Kim. Thank you.

    Your voice was, once again, a great asset and I really appreciate you taking time away from your family to help move the needle another notch.

  5. Sounds like a great event, Kim. Thanks for the helpful recap.

  6. And this -- all of this -- is what mad this more than just a dog-and-pony show or a "let's make it look like we care" event. Everyone DOES care, and everyone is not only inspired, but empowered to make things better. What a wonderful wrap-up!

  7. When I went to work after I stopped dyeing my hair, some of my colleagues made fun of my Unprofessional Hairstyles when they noticed that my hair was not dyed.


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