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Diabetes Mall

By David Mendosa

Last Update: March 1, 2001

Just because the Internet is so big, it doesn't mean that a dot-com has to be huge to survive. In fact, by staking out a claim to a narrow niche some small companies thrive.

Take, for example, The Diabetes Mall. Using insulin—specifically pumping insulin—is the site's focus.

They are good writers

Diabetes Mall does turn a profit, says John Walsh, who owns the site together with his wife Ruth Roberts. They say that they keep their expenses to a minimum and do a lot of the work themselves.

Perhaps even more important is the knowledgeable service and depth of information that they provide. The site actually has a lot more information than product. It has about 1,000 pages, John says.

He is a diabetes clinical specialist who himself has had diabetes for more than 48 of his 53 years. Ruth is an educator and medical writer. They have been married for more than 22 years and live in San Diego.

For the past 18 years John has used an insulin pump. "I have tried every brand, except the Korean one, which is not available in the United States," he says.

Which pump is he using now? Since it changes all the time, he doesn't say. "Pumps work extremely well in terms of blood sugar control," he replies, "and brand is less important."

While the site offers some pump accessories, it doesn't sell pumps. They are prescription products purchased from the manufacturers or their distributors. John and Ruth don't accept any advertising.

The site has a tremendous amount of information on pumps and continuous monitoring. One of my favorite pages is a  table comparing the features of the six pump models currently offered by the four pump manufacturers.

Another page that I am partial to is A Satisfying Way to Lose Weight. Four years ago John and I wrote this article together to report about some interesting work in Australia on the "Satiety Index."

Equally valuable is a much more recent article by John blasting the blood glucose meter manufacturers for selling meters that are inept in helping people with diabetes and their healthcare team recognize patterns and make suggestions for improved control. The two models of meters available today that allow pattern analysis have real problems, he says.

The most popular part of the site is their "Diabetes This Week" newsletter, which summarizes about a half dozen issues in the news each week. They go through research articles and journals for the latest available news. About 190 back issues are online.

The best part of the site, John says, is its breadth of knowledge. "We have everything from handling colds to technology news. We are technically oriented and have a lot of tools."

What makes the site unique, Ruth says, is that they are good writers. "We pride ourselves on distilling the latest, often complicated information into a simple format that other people can more readily understand."

John and Ruth are in fact first and foremost writers who are much better known for their books than for their Web site. Their best seller currently is Pumping Insulin: Everything You Need for Success With an Insulin Pump. The third edition was published last June.

Their three other books are Stop the Rollercoaster: How to Take Charge of Your Blood Sugars in Diabetes, The Pocket Pancreas and My Other CheckBook. Sales of the four books comprise one-third of the site's sales, John says.

Meanwhile, the Internet's biggest booksellers are all losing money. Maybe they should take a lesson from people running successful Web sites like John and Ruth. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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