I Made An App To Plug A Knowledge Gap

Hellen Marguerite Juul struggled to find information on how to navigate a pregnancy with diabetes, so she came up with her own solution.

“Diabetes is a life-changing thing,” says Hellen Marguerite Juul, Nordic Brand Manager of Immunology and Gastroenterology at Janssen.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 14, it would take her years to come to terms with it. “I didn't acknowledge my disease for a long time; it was hard to navigate. It really changed in my late 20s, when I wanted to get pregnant, because there was a new focus – it wasn’t only about me,” she says. “I needed to be completely in control, so I learned everything about my disease, and what the consequences were of everything I was doing.”

On her journey to prioritising her health, Hellen spotted an information vacuum around pregnancy for people with diabetes, so she asked her medical team for their help in developing an app to share health information with other women.

Aimed at pregnant women with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes, as well as diabetic women who want to become pregnant, the Pregnant with Diabetes app offers a range of advice from experts in the field from the Centre for Pregnant Women with Diabetes at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Tailored advice includes how to plan a pregnancy, possible complications to be aware of and how to manage blood sugar levels and insulin doses during pregnancy. It offers further support after the birth, addressing special needs for a baby with a diabetic mother, and the prognosis for gestational diabetes.

After gaining funding from a range of medical company donors and collating the expertise of chief physicians in endocrinology and obstetrics, the app was launched in 2013 and is now available worldwide.

The success of the app heralded change for Hellen, inspiring her to make the jump from advertising – where she managed pharma clients – into the pharma industry proper. “It made me see that if one person could do a little thing like this, imagine what a pharma company could do. It was just me making the first app in the world about pregnancy and diabetes, and it's now in 180 countries. I thought that if I wanted to make life better for patients, I needed to be on the customer not the agency side.”

She joined Janssen three years ago working across customer engagement and digital, currently focused on driving digital transformation as a brand manager in immunology and gastroenterology.

“All diseases have patients,” she says. “Diabetes, I can do in my free time. If you have Crohn’s and you can't get pregnant, you will be afraid of the same things that I was. It's the same mindset that people have when they're sick. ‘Why me? What can I do?’ It's the same feelings, just a different disease.”

The insights she gained personally remain core to her work. “My experience of being a patient is that there is always a consequence, always a B-side,” she says. “I can eat a piece of chocolate, but I have to do something else at the same time.There’s always a consequence when you’re diabetic.”

Building a better future for patients drove her at the start of her career and continues to do so today. When working in advertising, she enjoyed finding creativity within the structured, compliant world of pharma, seeking to get the right information into the hands that needed it. “The interest for me was that I knew how much was out there, and how little of that was communicated to patients. That was my thing – I wanted to help patients.”

She tries to take a holistic approach with her work today, viewing a perfect project as one which has something available within it for patients, nurses, prescribing doctors and key opinion leaders. “I want to have all of them involved,” she says.

“I think most pharma companies are also thinking about patients because it is the patients that are using their drugs. Maybe one of my benefits is that I have this perspective of also saying, ‘A patient is not just a patient, but a human being, who is also looking the data, who's also influencing their own treatment options.’ We as patients are challenging doctors as much as others, or maybe even more so.

“I understand that this industry is of course about selling your products, but I don’t mind that. Everything pharma is doing is evidence-based and we can't say anything that is not correct, which is more than you get with other kinds of marketing and advertising.”

And for her, the mission is personal. After all, as she says, “I wouldn't be alive without the pharma industry."

Click here to read our previous Patients in Pharma articles

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