What’s the most stressful part about creating an app with the power to potentially save millions of lives? According to Quit Genius co-founder Maroof Ahmed, it’s ”keeping your parents happy”.
That might not be the expected answer, but then Ahmed and fellow co-founders Yusuf Sherwani and Sarim Siddiqui aren’t your typical developers. The trio, medical students when they came up with an app-based idea to help smokers kick the habit, have all put promising clinical careers on hold since graduating in 2017 to pursue the idea.
While their parents might have been unsure at first, with the NHS and wider scientific community backing them up, this talented trio believe their approach can make a difference.
We spent four months on a hospital respiratory unit together seeing patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, a lot of it caused by smoking,” co-founder and CEO Dr. Sherwani says, explaining where the idea came from.
We’d see doctors go and tell patients that they have to quit smoking without giving them any tangible support to do that. There wasn’t really anything that we as doctors would feel happy prescribing, and we saw a real opportunity to deliver something that could be of value to people.”
The result, Quit Genius, is an app that, instead of simply guiding you through a pre-set programme reliant on willpower, addresses a user’s individual triggers for smoking through the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, looking at why you started and the reasons you still smoke.
CBT is the real gold standard for treating every single mental health and addiction issue, but it’s historically been very difficult to scale and super expensive,” Dr. Sherwani explains.
Because we know CBT works so effectively, we happily replicate the nuances of human interaction and have worked with therapists to work out exactly what they do and how we can get to the same end goal with an app.”
Quit Genius does this by letting you assign yourself a personalised future quit date based on how you answer a series of questions that analyse your psychological link to smoking. As you progress, taking five minutes a day to complete mindfulness tasks and ponder self-reflecting questions, you learn about exactly how nicotine affects your mind as much as your body. Instead of scaring you with worrying figures, however, Quit Genius focusses on the thinking patterns you’ve fallen into around smoking, and how you can reprogram yourself to avoid the same pitfalls.
And, crucially, it works.
Often what we find is that by the time users get to their quit date they’ve already more or less quit themselves because they’ve been able to overcome their triggers,” Dr. Siddiqui explains.
We’ve had a lot of user feedback on their success stories, but when it has an impact on a whole family, that’s when it’s the most rewarding. There’s one lady that really stands out. She has a family and a couple of kids, she’d smoked 20 a day for almost 25 years but Quit Genius was the trigger for her to go smoke free. She’s maintained being smoke free for the last three months and now helps others in our Facebook group.”
We actually made her a Quit Genius Pioneer because she’s so active in her feedback and improvement of the app.”
And it’s this improvement that’s key to where the team want to take Quit Genius next. Since launching in June a number of medical papers have been written on the power of the app, but Drs Sherwani, Ahmed and Siddiqui, now NHS Clinical Entrepreneurs, aren’t content.
The longer view for the app is how we can be as predictive as possible and know when you’re going to relapse before you do,” Dr. Sherwani explains. If this works for smoking, then addictions are fundamentally the same thing whether you’re quitting alcohol or opioids.”
They hope that Quit Genius will also help usher in a new era of medical treatment. In the coming months, it will enter a full-scale clinical trial – as would happen with traditional medication – with the hope of the app becoming a form of prescribed addiction treatment.
We’ve already had successful pilots with the NHS and health insurers. That paves the way for why we really started this which isn’t just for people who can afford an in-app subscription, but so that it can be paid for by the NHS and doctors can prescribe it,” Dr. Sherwani tells us.
You can see apps being prescribed as digital medicine. That really is the future to keeping people healthy. We know that there’s no pill that can change a person’s behaviour. At the end of the day you have to do the hard work yourself to change your behaviour, but smartphones can go a long way in aiding that.”