Welcome to our story. Through this text I want to provide a brief description of the development process for the IBD Fighter app. I want you to understand our motivation and the steps we took to try to improve the health of people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In the spring of 2004, I woke up one day and immediately had to run to the bathroom with strong diarrhea. One hour later, I came to work and I had to run to the bathroom again. “Weird,” I thought. “I probably shouldn’t have eaten that chilli last night.” The same day, I visited the bathroom 7 times and I also spotted bits of blood in my stool. Though I didn’t know yet, the day before was my last day with a stool in solid state. My ulcerative colitis had just introduced itself.
Since then, I have had many examinations. Initially, I visited my GP. “Blood in the stool?” he said. “It’s nothing serious; just stop eating ketchup.” I was astounded by his uninformed comments. Since 2004, I have lost a lot of blood, suffered a lot of pain and ruined many pairs of pants. I have learned that no bathroom is close enough when you need it.
I remember how people really loved me when I flew from Leeds to Prague. As we began to descend, I had a huge colon cramp and massive watery stools landed in my pants. As a result, my first moments in Prague were unforgettable. Unfortunately, that moment was also unforgettable for all passengers. A few minutes of waiting for the aircraft doors to open felt long... really long.
I also tried various pills and diet changes. Everybody recommends a different course of treatment. “Don’t worry, tomatoes are fine for you. Just don’t eat cucumbers” claims one book. On the other hand a different book says “Are you crazy? Tomatoes are killers! Try replacing them with cucumbers!” I had no idea what advice to take, so I asked my doctor. The good man usually knows everything, but in this case he was not much help. “No, don’t eat cucumbers or tomatoes. Better don’t eat at all. Here, take those pills!” he told me.
Very soon I have realized that there was no universal solution, so my best option was to try one thing, wait, and see if it helped. If not, I would have to try another way. Patience quickly became a necessity.
Try to be patient when you have regular cramps and watery stool mixed with blood, or when you are still tired and in an awful mood. Try to be patient when you cannot travel by public transport because you don’t know when you will need to go to the toilet. Try to be patient when almost every restaurant has only one stall in the male toilet. Try to be patient when that stall is occupied by someone who has to check Facebook or Twitter.
I remember how great it was when I tried to spend a nice Christmas time with my girlfriend at Bella Italia restaurant in Edinburgh, and because of two Facebook readers occupying both stalls I had an unwanted present in my pants. So, our romantic dinner just ended...
I decided that it was time to stop crying and start to do something about it.
In 2008, I started my Computing and Design studies at the Open University in the United Kingdom. One of the assignments was to create an “innovative mobile or desktop application”. It was a great opportunity to think about my Ulcerative Colitis illness and how technology could help me improve my state.
The first step was to clearly identify the goal of my application. I immediately knew what I wanted: to permanently improve my health. I knew it sounded very ambitious but I was determined to take my condition into my own hands and improve my quality of life.
As I mentioned, I had already tried numerous diets and drugs. I usually used an Excel sheet to track what I was eating, which pills I was taking and which symptoms I was experiencing. Then, I looked for correlations. However, finding anything was a huge challenge.
As a result, my first goal was to create a tracking app - a simple record of my food and symptoms.
My next step was to research existing solutions. Unfortunately, I realized that tracking apps for people with IBD already exist. I needed to create something new to help people.
Actually, I felt that I had been wasting my time with the excel spreadsheet when there were better solutions out there...
I decided to install few of the IBD tracking apps and test them out. They were not bad, but they had one major flaw: they only recorded your inputs. Some of them could prepare a report/time sheet for your doctor but nothing more. I realized I needed to expand my idea to provide a new and helpful service to people suffering from IBD. I started to ask questions about how to study correlations and look for causes and effects in data.
What if the app could automatically analyze my recorded data and try to guide me - give me some personalized advice and recommendations based on my data? Oh, and what if the app compared my data with data from a whole community of people who use the app? What if the app found correlations in my behavior that I didn’t even knew existed? Could machine learning improve the app? Neural networks? Various technologies and questions began to pop into my head.
It sounded like an opportunity. I finally knew what I wanted my app to do. I wanted to create an application to collect and analyze your data to find out what impacts your Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
However, I realized that concept of the app was much too ambitious and it exceeded the range of the school project. In addition, I knew that I was not able to develop this program on my own. I wrapped up the university project as a working prototype (concept of user interface and basic backend architecture). I did not implement the key features, such as self-learning and observing trends during school.
As time passed, I finished my studies, but unfortunately, the development of the app just slept.
The turn came in 2014 when I met Pavel.
I remember our first meeting. When Pavel said "Hey, I have a great idea. Let's work on community tourist guide app", I just shook my head. "Nah, it will not work.” I said. “Nobody will want a tourist guide app based on local people or communities... Listen my idea!... The app for people suffered by IBD!". The lack of understanding on his face is something I will never forget.
However, when I explained IBD, Pavel became more interested. He started produce his own ideas how to check trends, do observations, and expand the application to help people with Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's disease even more. Pavel also has invited Adam to our new team. Adam bought something important to the team with his amazing technical skills and experience. I finally had the team I needed to make my prototype a reality.
Soon after, we started work on new prototypes to run on Android, iOS and Windows. These prototypes also allowed us to start collecting data from users and working on algorithms to generate personal observations.
One day, when our software just started producing its first observations, Adam called me. "Hi, great news!” he said. “The app just showed me my first observation!" I was thrilled. "Great! It is awesome!" I said. "Well, I don't know" said Adam. "Do you think that it is correct, that the app told me that I should stop drinking all liquids and start smoking?"
Since this time, we have improved our algorithms immensely. We also learned many new things based on users’ data and improved our UI based on user testing. We also stopped working on the application for windows phones.
Now we are confident that we have a product that can help improve IBD; Not just another “simple” recorder of inputs, but instead a program capable of analysis. The main obstacle in utilizing our app is patience. It is necessary to collect long term data in order to produce valid observations, statistics and recommendations. If you have the patience to continue with observations, our application will improve your condition.
This is our story. Our long journey from the first mockup to the final applications was amazing, and we are proud of that. We hope that the app will help you in your fight against IBD!
IBD Fighter Team