Doug Kanter, 40, is a software designer, a seasoned photographer, an entrepreneur, a runner and a self described, “Quantified Selfer”—or someone who uses tools of technology to track aspects of daily life—food consumption, caloric intake, physical activity, sleep quality, etc.
“Their motto is self-knowledge through self tracking,” said Doug about the Quantified Self movement, recently born in the Bay Area out of the data collected (mostly by smart apps on smart phones) and driven by people like Doug, a Berrie Center patient with type 1 diabetes (T1D), who are interested in tracking and improving their own health and fitness.
“People with diabetes are natural quantified selfers,” said Doug, who has been monitoring and managing his glucose levels for nearly 28 years. “It’s much more than logging your blood sugar levels. It’s about how your blood sugar reacts to all the different variables in your life—like food, exercise and stress. I think technology is finally catching up to what people really need, which is to take readings and interpret them too, so they can keep improving their health goals.”
Welcome to Doug’s world. Not for the data-phobic, Doug is the founder of a startup called Databetes, devoted to developing apps that help people self-manage their diabetes. His first product, Meal Memory, is a recently released mobile app available for Android on Google Play. “Our goal was to create not just a self-tracking app, but also an improved feedback loop for patients,” explained Doug, who has a Masters Degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). “Using this approach, Meal Memory helps diabetes patients understand the effect that a specific meal has on their blood sugar.”
Here’s how Meal Memory works. The system asks you to take a picture of the meal you are about to eat. Record your pre-meal blood sugar reading and enter a carb estimate for the meal. Two hours after eating, Meal Memory sends an alert to your phone asking for a post-meal reading.
The program is designed on the premise that we are all creatures of habit, when it comes to what we eat. Having two data points, says Doug, makes it easier for people to “better manage that same meal when they eat it again. We all have our favorite foods we like to eat and restaurants we go to. But remembering the details of each meal, its effects on blood sugar and the best way to manage that food, is the challenge.” The pictures make it easier to scan through and call up a previous meal. They also provide a visual history of your diet and how you managed each meal.
Doug started Databetes when he was a student at NYU’s ITP, a two year graduate program in the Tisch School of Arts. ITP’s mission is “to explore the imaginative use of communication technologies—and how these technologies might augment, improve and bring delight and art into people’s lives.”
At ITP Doug expanded his creative skills by focusing on interaction design and data visualization. In fact, he originally developed the Meal
Menu program as part of his graduate thesis, a year-long quantified self project where he tracked every blood sugar reading, every insulin dose, every meal and all of his activity (including training for a marathon) for an entire year. Not only did his diabetes control improve considerably (making 2012 the healthiest year of his life) he won the 2013 NYU Entrepreneurs Challenge.
He also visualized his graduate project as an amazing, multi-color poster (image above). Said Doug, “Never before in my 28years as a patient, have I been able to step back and reflect on my health through an entire year’s worth of diabetes readings.”
No wonder that Doug has been described as the quintessential quantified selfer. Recently, he was profiled as a “Superhuman”, by human.co, makers of a popular app that tracks and categorizes your activity automatically—to help you achieve at least 30 minutes of exercise or more a day. And, as a quantified mover and shaker in the self-tracking community, Doug is often asked to speak at symposiums and other personal health and wellness events. This week (September 4 to 7) he will address the Global Access 2014 Stanford MedicineX conference, where he was selected to participate as part of their ePatient Scholar program. Stanford MedicineX (the intersection of medicine and technology) brings together minds from both medicine and industry to discuss how both medicine and technology is improving health.
While no application can ever replace the knowledge and input of a great diabetes educator and endocrinologist—a great app, says Doug, can be an indispensible tool for clinicians who are already analyzing the data generated by patients from their insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitor systems (CGMS). In the future, Doug hopes to work with manufacturers to incorporate existing data from pumps and monitors to the next generation of diabetes apps.