I wish I had been told to have patience with myself. The ups and downs, and roadblocks can seem endless, but as you continue moving forward you can overcome them.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mariceli Comellas.
Mariceli Comellas is the Founder and Creator of HealDi, an all new telehealth app that centralizes the online telemedicine approach to type 2 diabetes treatment, self-management, and education. She is an accomplished healthcare professional with more than 15 years of experience in healthcare in not-for-profit, academic, hospital, government, and corporate environments. She is an expert in chronic disease management and support of underserved populations’ topics. She has authored and co-authored publications on clinical subjects and healthcare delivery processes using information technologies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My professional life began in New York, where I researched diabetes and diabetic self-management with experts in diabetes, mental health, and cardiology. After I realized the constant struggles that people with diabetes face, I began to reflect on my own father’s circumstances and the difficulties he faces daily. When I was in school, I continued my diabetes research and found that young people with the disease were more likely to have poor glycemic control than their more seasoned counterparts. This finding suggested that younger people in the modern workplace would be less likely to have the time to see all the specialists they might require for diabetes management. While caring for someone with diabetes, it’s crucial to have a team of experts who can address their unique requirements in cardiology, optometry, nutrition, general practice, endocrinology, podiatry, and psychology.
Can you share the most interesting story that has happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Let me tell you a story from when I still lived in New York City and was visiting my girlfriend at her apartment after a day of being home alone while she was at work. “How was your day, sweetheart?” she enquiries. And I remarked, “That was great; I’m going to start a telemedicine firm.” “What?!” she exclaimed. “Then what did you do?” she continued. I had a complete image in my head, and I know the difficulties that people with diabetes experience, because I have diabetes in my family. So, I went over the big picture of how people with diabetes might gain access to healthcare services. As a result, I decided to explain what telemedicine is. Many people in the past were unaware of what modern telemedicine entails. So, I broke it to her, and she’s been there for me, even though she has her career as a marketing professional; I came up with the ideas, and she helped me give them a solid foundation.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my biggest blunders was expecting that I could set up a fully functional, state-of-the-art telemedicine system on my own. I was sold when I came across advertisements for inexpensive infrastructure from various companies delivering pre-made websites for clients. I’m no software engineer by any stretch of the imagination. Initially, I contacted a gentleman that an acquaintance recommended from India who said his company could construct the system but never followed through. The reality, however, is quite different; we had to begin with something that would function within an architecture that would allow us to develop the unique functionality necessary to create a product that serves the people we aim to help and to establish effective networks among healthcare providers. I understood how important it was to have capabilities not offered by other telemedicine services but that were necessary for diabetes care when you are a busy adult, especially for individuals who were dealing with complex diseases. It doesn’t matter if you are retired, self-employed, or in the workforce; life is hectic for all of us.
Can you describe how you or your organization are making a significant social impact?
As someone whose family has a history of diabetes, I can attest to how hard it is for many people to take charge of their own care, even though they have seen several doctors. Thus, HealDi is an impressive technological advancement in this regard. The millions of people in the United States, like my family, who deal with diabetes and its myriad chronic complications would greatly benefit. The effects of diabetes don’t just affect those who have it; they also affect their loved ones and the wider community. When a person has diabetes and is either chronically ill or unable to work, they are less able to make economic contributions to society. People with diabetes and its complications can feel better with the support of a centralized online telemedicine approach to treatment, self-management, and education. There has been a shift in our family dynamic since my father was diagnosed with diabetes. If there aren’t many readily available multidisciplinary treatment options, it might be hard to help Dad keep his blood sugar levels in check while also taking care of his mental health and making changes to his lifestyle, like going to the doctor more often and adjusting his nutrition. To limit the risk of further consequences and social costs associated with diabetes, it is crucial to have a solution to offer the public.
Like diabetes and its management, technological progress and societal changes go hand in hand. Our closest loved ones are the first to suffer cultural, moral, and emotional consequences. Culturally, there is a higher rate of type 2 diabetes among Hispanics than any other ethnic group in the United States. Hispanics are an ethnic group with an increased diabetes disease prevalence. Clinical psychologists coin the term “familism” to characterize the disregard for one’s health and welfare common in societies where obligations to one’s family and community take precedence over one’s needs. We, as a culture, need to be more accepting that people with diabetes may need to see more than one doctor to achieve optimal glucose management. Those with diabetes who lack access to multidisciplinary treatment may experience the disease’s negative impacts, especially on a moral and emotional level, more acutely because of the time commitment required to access medical care. While healthy, our minds can wander to things like jobs and relationships; when we’re sick, emotions are devoted to recovery. Then after, we pondered how great it felt to be healthy. HealDi was developed to improve patient care by linking all care team members and promoting effective communication. Its development was motivated mainly by the needs of the Hispanic community.
Because of the time investment required for medical care, people without access to multidisciplinary care may be more severely impacted by diabetes and its complications. HealDi was explicitly designed for the Spanish-speaking population to improve care coordination, patient monitoring, and information sharing.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by or helped by your cause?
While this cause will benefit multiple individuals, it is more so focused on a community of individuals who truly need help and lack the resources to self-manage their diabetic issues. People with diabetes and other chronic diseases spend an average of 484 hours a year visiting multiple clinicians for treatment. Those with long-term health issues, like diabetes, need to visit their doctors frequently for exams. This makes it tough to ensure continuous access to medical care. Because of the coordination features of the HealDi app, many clinicians can work together during a single patient visit. Every patient’s ideal healthcare team member is available at one central location.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
A disproportionate number of people from underrepresented groups develop diabetes. Because of this, many individuals have wildly different incomes, making it challenging to acquire healthy food. Legislators may support this area by pushing for technological developments that will benefit the food industry and reduce the price of proper nutrition. If you think it’s hard to decide what to eat because nutrition is a complicated science, try putting yourself in the shoes of someone who must monitor their blood sugar levels constantly.
HealDi is a mobile app that helps people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses manage their conditions more effectively in one centralized location. Everyone with diabetes wishes to avoid the disease’s complications. Our digital forum for people with diabetes may help spread the word about how they can better their health by making lifestyle changes like eating better, exercising more, and taking their medications as recommended with the aid of the community.
Lastly, in some ways, native Spanish speakers in the United States might benefit from our telemedicine platform. The public may and should do more to promote individuals’ ability to get healthcare services in a manner that meets their linguistic needs.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership requires the ability to inspire those around you, regardless of our line of work. We all have regular interactions with people and, unconsciously, tend to mimic their behaviors. So in order to improve our leadership skills, whether as a boss, friend, or colleague, we can pave the way for others by setting an example, specifically in healthcare and well-being by making preventative doctor’s appointments, maintaining an exercise routine, and enforcing personal boundaries.
Another form of leadership is understanding an individual’s mental and emotional health. Taking care of one’s mental and emotional health is necessary to living a happy and healthy life, and at times, leaders, regardless of the relationship, need to help provide support. Leaders in management positions can support this initiative by providing time and space away from work regularly, whether through vacation time or mental health days, being patient with response times to non-urgent emails, or even letting your team truly enjoy their lunch break. Even though we all have lunch breaks and meals together, many of us fail to take advantage of these opportunities to connect on a personal level.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Everyone’s experience is different, especially in their approach and their industry, however, this is what I wish I knew, reflecting on my experience, if someone told me to start an organization from zero:
- I wish I had been told to have patience with myself. The ups and downs, and roadblocks can seem endless, but as you continue moving forward you can overcome them.
- I would not have any doubts with what I am doing. It can be easy to decide what you are doing is not worth it anymore, but if you truly believe in what you do, believe and trust in yourself.
- I wish someone had explained the importance of being content with oneself, coming into one’s own, and settling one’s concerns before attempting to assist others.
- If only somebody had advised me where to look for funding, I could have kept the platform’s development going.
- I wish somebody had told me that the lessons I learn on this path would enable me to help other people realize their potential and realize their aspirations and be more proactive in doing so. .
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The “kindness movement” has always struck a chord with me… Regardless of someone’s ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or point of view, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and forget to treat people with kindness. Doing something nice for someone every day, no matter how small, can make their day.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
– Albert Einstein
Once upon a time, while working at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I found this quote while walking down a hallway. To me, the words of this quote sum up who I am, perfectly. I frequently contemplate my next major decision and what my next goal looks like. Imagination has been the driving force behind my accomplishments and aspirations. In my opinion, as time goes on, so does our understanding of the world and our abilities in the scientific and technological fields. This can be observed in technological advancements. There’s new technology coming in the next six months, so we’ll get the newest TV in our home eventually.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
The obvious choice is Elon Musk. I’ve followed his career since Tesla started; he’s a true pioneer and progressive. He frequently astounds me with his expansive ideas. He is a pioneering figure who disrupts established norms.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for the opportunity!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Mariceli Comellas of HealDi Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.