My name is Vedrana, I am a scientist with PhD in cancer immunology. I am also Hashimoto’s patient, entrepreneur and an amateur standup comedian. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis runs in my family and has profoundly affected all of our lives. However, until I actually got diagnosed, I did not think that the thyroid problems my mother my mother had would happen to me, too.
I’ve learned a lot since then. Being a scientist, I was fortunate to have access to peer-reviewed scientific literature on the topics of autoimmunity and Hashimoto’s. I read a lot, and I tried out different approaches, mostly focusing on trying to reduce my digestive problems. Being a digital age person, and a self-proclaimed geek, I wanted there to be a digital tool, an app, where I could log my symptoms and my lifestyle changes and then see those data points analyzed. I was surprised that something like that didn’t exist already!
A History of BOOST HEALTH
Since there was no app, I decided to build one by myself. A year ago, I left my job to build BOOST HEALTH, and this past year has been a lot of hard work and fun. I obviously learned a lot about other people who have Hashimoto’s. But it has also been a humbling experience, and I am ever so grateful to everyone who decided to share their stories with me. People’s feedback, even the not-so flattering feedback, has given me an immense boost (no pun intended) of energy to continue building this solution – even as I cope with Hashimoto’s myself.
There are many challenges ahead. When we were first designing an app for Hashimoto’s patients, I wanted it to immediately have all the functionalities and to cater to all of the needs we identified. But, unfortunately that is not how developing an app works most of the time. We are a startup and have had to be extra careful with our resources. So what did we do? We spent a lot of time talking to people with Hashimoto’s to identify one big need so we could build a solution around that. Then the next need, and the next. This process taught me a lot about being patient.
Symptom Management in an App
The idea behind the BOOST HEALTH app is that it can be a tool for people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s to use when trying to manage a sometimes overwhelming number of symptoms, and then to see how changes in lifestyle impact symptoms and thyroid blood values over time. We wanted to provide people with a way to measure their successes and improvements using just their phones. Now users can decide which symptoms they want to track with the BOOST HEALTH app. Hair loss is the latest addition, and we have plans to expand more.
One thing that was very important to me was that this app for Hashimoto’s patients be built using peer-reviewed scientific research. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that users could access the information that we have so they can make informed decisions. Each of the symptoms in the app, as well as the lifestyle changes and lab tests we suggest, has information coming from scientific research. We left scientific references in, so if anyone using the app is interested in knowing more, they can study the research papers in depth.
We also used our science knowledge base to build a chatbot, Hashiboto – the latest feature in the app. Right now, it’s a baby chatbot, still growing and getting stronger and smarter. You can chat with the bot about thyroid issues or ask it if you should adopt a certain diet. It will never tell you “Yes, you should” or “No, you shouldn’t”, but it will give you basic information on what works for others and what science says about the subject. This type of vetted information is especially beneficial for newly diagnosed Hashimoto’s patients. I think I had my younger, inexperienced and lost self in mind when building Hashiboto!
Hashiboto is still in beta phase, which means it is still being tested. But we were so curious to see what people would ask, so we can go and search for more information in the scientific literature and pass it on to our users. We plan to take it from this beta stage and develop Hashiboto into amazing things.
As a former academic researcher, I also want BOOST HEALTH to be a strong bridge between patients and research. The app could potentially help push research forward and give patients access to immediate feedback from specific research they chose to participate in. That would be a dream come true!
Obviously, I am not alone building this, but am only a part of a wonderful team of highly dedicated people with science, engineering, medical and design experience. Want to help? We are always looking for people to give us their feedback, talk about and test new features, so please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestion or question you might have.
Vedrana Högqvist Tabor has a Ph.D. in cancer immunology, has spent 13 years researching different aspects of cancer and cardiovascular diseases in several European institutes, including Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. She has traveled and lectured at Columbia University, the University of Oxford, as well as WIRED Health and TEDx. As a researcher, she has gotten grants and awards from Sweden, Germany, EU, and US. She has spent two years as a director of scientific research for Clue. She is a mentor for budding startups in biomedicine at Stanford-SPARK Berlin.