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DiabetesWATCH

By David Mendosa

Last Update: December 18, 2000

You can find good information about diabetes at lots of Web sites, particularly those that I have previously reviewed here. But few of these sites are especially good looking.

Now there is finally a site where the quality of the graphics matches the depth of the content. DiabetesWATCH has been on-line since late summer, but hasn't recruited visitors until recently. In fact, I have never heard of it until I noticed an advertisement for the site in the December issue of Diabetes Forecast.

‘I think of it as a soap opera…’

The ad positions the site first as an online community. But equally important to the people who put the site together are empowering the site's users through health management tools like a self-care journal and supporting them through a message system and access to diabetes educators.

All of this comes without any banner ads or any cost to the user. That's because the site's sponsor, Aventis Pharmaceuticals is "trying to create an image of leadership in diabetes for the future," says Dalton Tomlinson, senior product manager for Aventis Pharmaceuticals North America.

"The only branding at all is around Aventis," he says. It doesn't even mention the prescription drugs that the company sells to people with diabetes, two second-generation sulfonylureas, Amaryl (glimepiride) and Diaßeta (glyburide). For most people with diabetes those drugs are a lot better known and have been around a lot longer than Aventis has—even though it is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc., headquartered in Bridgewater, New Jersey, is the U.S. subsidiary of Aventis SA. It was born in December 1999 when Hoechst AG of Germany and Rhône-Poulenc SA of France merged.

Amaryl has its own Web site. Diaßeta, which is available as a generic, doesn't. But what is probably the most important Aventis product for people with diabetes isn't even on the market yet.

Lantus (insulin glargine) already has FDA approval as the first truly very long acting insulin (more than 24 hours). Aventis is gearing up production for it to be introduced next summer. At that time Lantus will have its own Web site.

Aventis is the number 3 insulin manufacturer worldwide. But until now Eli Lilly and Company and Novo-Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Denmark's Novo A/S, have controlled the U.S. insulin market.

"Amaryl.com is a reference site where somebody would go to occasionally to learn more about Amaryl," Tomlinson says. "With DiabetesWATCH we are looking for repeat visits. I think of it as a soap opera or a community with up-to-date news and a community atmosphere encouraging people to come back."

A welcoming and attractive site, it has encouraged me to return again and again. It makes good use of lots of very small photos.

"We were looking for a clean uncomplicated presentation," Tomlinson says. "We want an uncluttered site that is easy to navigate, even if the person isn't very adept at the Internet."

Aventis picked SoftWatch Inc., a top provider of Internet software for the healthcare industry, for the design of the site and the technology that powers it. You can get a feel for that technology when you use the site's self-care journal to manage your nutrition intake, exercise, blood glucose, and medication.

Currently, the site has 5,500 foods in its database, says SoftWatch President Asaf Evenhaim. While based on the USDA Nutrient Database, you can enter any amount of a food and get out what looks like an FDA Nutrition Facts label. Or you can put in a whole meal and see what it has in calories, carbohydrate, and other factors.

"You can not only see the values for one food," Evenhaim continues, "but you can log the foods you eat on a regular basis with a much faster interface than the USDA's and measure that against your nutrition goals. In addition, you can define new foods from the label on the foods you buy at the supermarket. You can also define recipes and even meals."

As leading-edge as the site is already, there's more coming. By early 2001 Evenhaim says they will enlarge their database to include some 18,000 foods. It will also have diabetic exchanges. Also coming about the same time will be the ability of the site's blood glucose monitoring tool to receive blood glucose readings directly from your meter connected by cable to your computer. It looks like they really do want to give us lots of reasons to return often. 


The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.


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