Inflammatory bowel diseases – including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis -represent quintessential chronic illnesses with intermittent flare-ups. Patients initially present, are diagnosed with IBD, begin treatment, experience prolonged periods of relative remission, but suffer episodic exacerbations of symptoms that can last for months. Regardless of their disease course, the quality of life for these patients often suffers as they struggle with the abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, infections, and an increased risk of colon cancer, rashes, and eye and joint problems from their disease, as well as the side effects from their medications. The exact nature and time course of these symptoms are critical, as they guide how physicians make changes in their treatment regimens. Here we review the GI Monitor app from WellApps, a powerful tool that helps IBD patients track their symptoms and share this data.
Brett Shamosh, the founder and CEO of WellApps, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 16. The difficulty he encountered tracking his symptoms encouraged him to create WellApps and develop software to help patients like himself track their symptoms. Currently, the GI Monitor is WellApps’ only iPhone app. Though a young enterprise, WellApps does boast a GI Monitor Advisory Committee that includes several gastroenterologists in both academic and private practice, as well as individuals with IBD. And the outcome is a great tool for patients to manage a difficult disease.
As for the app itself, registration allows for real-time synching between the iPhone app and an online database. The app’s home screen (shown above) allows users to log their IBD symptoms, including bowel movements, pain and stress levels, meals, missed medications, and any custom symptoms. The “Daily Logs” function allows users to comprehensively look over every entry they have logged.
The “My Status” function (shown below) is the GI Monitor’s custom Quality-of-Life scale, which uses factors like stool number, form, blood, and urgency levels as well as pain and stress levels to calculate Q-of-L on a 1-10 scale. Moreover, users can utilize this function to easily view and e-mail summative reports.
The “My Chart” button on the top right of the “My Status” screen uses patient data to plot an aesthetically pleasing chronological chart of symptom severity and overall status over time (shown below).
The “Medications” function (shown below) serves as a historical log of treatment regimens, offering users a bank of medications to help them construct an interface of how much of which medications they take when. Since treatment regimens for IBD can get rather complicated (especially during flares), this function holds promise for patients. Moreover, medication history can be useful if a user ever has to see another doctor or for urgent or emergency visits elsewhere.
Finally, other functions of the GI Monitor app under “More” include the “Latest IBD News” (federal funding updates, research developments, fundraising initiatives, etc.) and “Questions for the Doctor” (shown below), a notepad to track questions for one’s doctor as they come up and a means of storing responses for easy reference.
As an aspiring gastroenterologist, I can easily see the potential value of this tool for a clinical GI practice. Tracking symptoms can be very difficult for patients, and this app’s interface is easy-to-use and encourages a well-organized log of patient symptoms while allowing for custom symptoms. Physicians can use this comprehensive and sorted data to more easily and precisely modify patients’ treatment regimens, as well as maximize the utility of the physician-patient interaction. Potentially, in some cases, physicians could even access a familiar patient’s symptom log and tweak medications without a clinic visit.
In this manner, similar apps for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes would be very welcome– imagine how much easier a well-organized log of glucose accuchecks would make it to alter insulin regimens for outpatients! Regardless, the WellApps website is full of comments from grateful patients with IBD who love the ease of use of the GI Monitor app.
Pricing: GI Monitor is a free service for patients, only requiring registration. For physicians, registration is also free.
-Intuitive, well-organized user interface
-Real-time synching of data for physicians and ability to e-mail reports
Dislikes/Future Updates I’d Love to See:
-The baseline (“normal”) quantity of bowel movements in settings is daily, but a weekly option might be more appropriate for constipation-predominant patients with between 0-1 BM daily
-When logging pain, being able to specify location might be useful (though this can be added individually via the notepad function while logging)
-Similar apps for other chronic illnesses like diabetes!
Conclusion: The GI Monitor app is a promising resource with considerable utility for individuals with IBD and their gastroenterologists—most importantly, it facilitates a well-organized and comprehensive tracking of IBD symptoms, among its other features, like medication regimens, questions for the doctor, and IBD news.