Information technology consultant Sunil Modi’s family battled many questions last year when a young relative was diagnosed with a rare form of heart disease.
“We all went looking in different directions looking for answers, but there was nothing to be found, and no way for us to contact people who had gone through this,” the Dallas, Texas-based Indian American entrepreneur told India-West.
Modi went looking for answers on online forums, but found they were scarcely populated. So he talked to doctors, nurses and caregivers about providing an online forum for people battling life-threatening and chronic diseases.
Modi launched the Reachout platform – a free app accessible on Android and iOS-based smart phones and available on reachout.life – in March, and has already amassed 2,500 users with only word-of-mouth advertising. Medical professionals are now reaching out to the social entrepreneur to participate in the forums and to offer the service to their patients, according to Modi.
The app has forums for six chronic illnesses: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, substance abuse, and death and grieving. The app offers peer-to-peer support for sufferers, as well as families looking for support to manage their loved one’s condition.
“We want people to discover they are not alone in this fight and that there are millions worldwide ready to stand by their side through the hardship,” said Modi.
One of the most unique sections of the platform – called “My Story” – offers users an opportunity to share the struggles of their illness and receive support from peers. “This is the first time many of our users have shared their stories,” Modi told India-West, adding: “No one should feel as though they are the only ones battling an illness.”
Substance abuse and mental illness are included in the forum because they are life-threatening diseases that take a toll on family as well as the sufferer. “Recovering from substance abuse is a lifelong process,” said Modi, adding that Reachout serves as a supplement to programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
“People feel free to step up and say, ‘I had a gram of cocaine,’ and know they will receive non-judgmental support,” he said.
Mental illness is in the same ballpark, said Modi, noting that society is very “hush hush” about the disease and tends to label sufferers as “whackos” who are socially outcast.
“The app lets people open up. It’s comforting to see so many people talking about the same thing they’re going through,” he said.
One of the app’s most-prolific users is an 18-year-old male suffering from Type 1 diabetes (India-West is not using his name to protect his medical privacy rights). “He is such a fighter. He has taken his disease head on and has wholeheartedly adopted the app,” said Modi.
Another frequent user is a woman who is struggling with long-term mental illness after experiencing traumatic brain injury.
The app is available to people over the age of 18, because of discussions about alcohol and drug abuse. Reachout is a for-profit venture – even though it is free. The site is advertisement-free. A statement in its FAQs notes: “We hate ads as much as you do.”
Michael Ochoa, who reviewed Reachout on Google Play, gave the app five stars. “This is by far the best app I've seen about socializing with people with a similar condition. It is super easy to use and I 10,000% recommend this app. You will find so much help and advice on this app. It’s comforting.”
Aijaz Shalla also gave the app five stars, noting: “Can bring comfort & solace to those punished by destiny. I know how much my Mom loves to discuss and talk about diabetes with those who can feel pain the same way she feels. It is always wonderful to get connected with the people who sail in the same boat, and awesome when the connection is borderless.”
“We live in a world where everyone is connected. This app is a meaningful way to connect people,” said Modi.