In early March, UnitedHealth Group’s Enterprise Research and Development Team will present at the South by Southwest, (SXSW) Conference in Austin, Texas. The conference is an interactive forum that brings music, film, and innovative thought leaders from various industries together to share ideas, and breakthroughs in multiple fields. For UnitedHealth Group, this opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time as we are partnering to drive an incredible study – one that pushes the envelope in the approach to the management of chronic disease.
One of the participants in this study and panelists at the SXSW conference is Brian Meads. Brian is 18 years-old and was diagnosed at 8 years with Type 1 diabetes. His story is unique because not only is he a participant in the study; but, he has an older sister who is also an employee here at UnitedHealth Group on the Enterprise Research and Development team. Megan Dsida, his sister, shares with us why Brian is her motivator to come to work every day and help people live healthier lives and help make the health care system work better for everyone!
Where do you work?
I work for UnitedHealth Group on the Enterprise Research and Development team. Part of my job is to help change our mindset and amplify our message to be a company of innovation.
How long have you worked at UnitedHealth Group?
I started my career out of college at Optum in 2014, as a consultant. I transitioned from being a consultant to an employee on the Enterprise Research and Development team.
Tell me about your brother Brian, he has Type 1 Diabetes?
My younger brother Brian is hilarious. He is the youngest of our family, there are four kids. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 8. It was a scary time and it changed how we operated as a family. There was no family history of diabetes so we were unprepared for how drastically our life would change. My family was always healthy, but after he was diagnosed we rallied around him and made continued lifestyle changes to help manage the disease.
For example, during Halloween we would all go out and trick or treat, but instead of eating all the candy, we would sell it back to our parents for money. Diabetics can have sugar, but eating a lot of it is not good for them, so we incorporated this new Halloween tradition to support Brian. Our vacations changed too. Previously, we had taken active vacations, but certain activities became more difficult. One of the previous challenges of diabetic care was how to keep insulin the right temperature when you don’t have access to refrigeration. Our family went on an Alaskan cruise and one of the day excursions was hiking. We tried bringing a cooler to hold Brian’s insulin. It didn’t quite work out and as a result Brian decided to stay behind and take a different excursion that didn’t require him to have to worry about his insulin going bad. One of the things that can happen when people who have diabetes exercise, or experience stress, their blood sugar can rise; which means an injection of insulin is needed to lower their blood sugar and prevent severe complications. So as a family we learned hikes could be a problem, so we changed direction and did different outings where we could all be included.
What is it like having a sibling with a chronic illness?
It is heartbreaking. There may never be a cure for him. I think continually being able to recognize that Brian has to live with diabetes the rest of his life, and trying to put ourselves in his shoes. It’s not Brian just fighting diabetes, it’s our family.
How has it affected the way you view health care?
Brian is my motivator, every day at work. Type 1 Diabetes care is only going to get better. I am so inspired by the passion and the hard work our team in Research and Development and other teams across the enterprise are doing to improve health care delivery in terms of managing chronic disease and especially diabetes. The ability to have a system where Brian’s care is all synced up is amazing.
Can you tell us more about the Chronic Disease work Research and Development is doing?
Yes! The team I am on is doing great things to improve diabetes care. Brian was part of a study here at UnitedHealth Group that did continuous monitoring of glucose for members. Usually, diabetics go in every three to four months to their doctors to check their blood sugar numbers, blood pressure, etc. The doctors make insulin adjustments, medication changes, and overall recommendations on how they could achieve better health outcomes. One of the ways our team is looking at health care delivery is to make it more connected in terms of doctor and patient; by using technology to create a real time monitoring system and give doctor’s the ability to have a holistic picture of a patient’s chronic disease, allowing them to intervene at critical points.
During this study, Brian would take off his insulin pump and using Bluetooth all the data would be uploaded directly to his doctor. Then Brian’s doctor would review his data. One week during the study the doctor noticed that Brian’s blood sugar was really high and the doctor called my parents to ask if there was something going on. My parents said Brian started playing soccer and through that data the doctor, Brian and my parents were able to see how outside factors affect Brian’s blood sugar and make real-time adjustments. It has been amazing to see the pilot come to life and the positive impact it has on Brian taking care of himself.
How has your brother’s disease affected how you view the company’s mission of helping people live healthier lives and helping the health care system work better for everyone?
It is my motivator, it affects everything I do. Prior to his diagnosis, I didn’t have a ton of experience with health care. I was a senior in high school when Brian was diagnosed and now to be able to work in health care and be in Research and Development is fun, there is so much opportunity.
Is there anything that you would like us as a reader to know?
That’s a good question. Yes, I believe in our mission. It is inspiring and empowering. I truly know we are making a difference in people’s lives; my brother is one of them!
Do you think there will be a cure for Type 1 diabetes during our lifetime?
Megan: Yes. I am confident that there will be a cure. For more information on Brian’s story, The South by Southwest Conference and how UnitedHealth Group is changing health care delivery, click here.