Accelerating Best Practices in Peer Support Around the World

HelpAround Just Brought Your Peer Support Program to the Smartphone

Patrick Tang, MPH

Chronic disease patients spend most of their time away from clinic, and they can often get caught unprepared or puzzled with managing their conditions. Instead of going to the emergency room when that happens, reaching out to a nearby peer can relieve potentially stressful situations and provide answers when healthcare professionals aren’t available.

Organized peer support in the form of one-on-one coaching, group meetings, and telephone calls aren’t available to many people, especially in rural areas. Moreover, when patients struggle with everyday issues regarding their condition, they can’t wait until the next peer support meeting or doctor’s appointment. Now that 58% of the American adult population owns a smartphone, mobile apps are quickly filling this need, improving opportunities for connectivity and responsiveness in peer support.

In the Android and Apple marketplaces, there are thousands of apps to help people manage their chronic diseases. In recent years, the growth of diabetes apps has been especially strong. According to one study, 76% of mobile health app publishers see diabetes as the therapeutic area with the highest business potential for mobile health. Currently, 1.2% of Americans with diabetes that own a smartphone or tablet use apps to manage their conditions. By 2018, the study predicts that that proportion will grow to 7.8%, or 24 million people.

While the majority of diabetes apps help users monitor their glucose and maintain healthy behaviors, some, like HelpAround, take a different approach and are built around peer support. Described as a mobile safety net for people with chronic conditions, HelpAround enables users to find peers around them wherever and whenever they need help or advice. Currently, the app supports communities around diabetes (type 1 and 2), parents of children with diabetes, and food allergies.

HelpAround works by linking “help seekers” with “helpers” in its Diabetes Safety Net. The app identifies the people with the highest likelihood of being able to help, notifies them of the request, and invites them to respond. Using a phone’s GPS, the app can link peers in close proximity to each other when the need arises. The built-in scalability means that user requests aren’t drowned out in a sea of messages. No matter how many people are using the app, only the people most likely to respond will receive requests. Users looking to chat with others that share their conditions can join one of many virtual support groups in the HelpAround community.

Mobile apps like HelpAround can assist healthcare providers build local patient communities that can mutually support each other when providers aren’t available. When patients can help each other before situations turn into emergencies, they are less likely to use urgent care or need hospitalization.  Furthermore, healthcare providers can attract new patients, identify dissatisfied or distressed patients, help transition them to at-home care, and lower the risk of hospital readmissions.


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