Working as part of a class on HCI methods, this research project explored how users with chronic illnesses could utilize technology to help track qualitative symptoms, such as pain. To understand how users with chronic illness currently track symptoms we performed contextual inquiries and retrospective interviews on people with chronic illness. Through talking with chronically ill people we came to a number of conclusions. One particularly notable conclusion was that the symptoms of the illness itself may have a profound affect on the ability to track symptoms. In particular, users with memory loss would have difficulty recalling the symptoms they experienced after the fact. We also learned that many people don't track, of which many used to track but stopped. Reasons for stopping included that quantifying their illness in such a manner was depressing when they weren't improving, and conversely that they experienced improvement in their illness and stopped tracking as a result. People who do track usually do so in order to see progress, in particular when trying different treatments. Often, the illnesses being tracked don't have a clearly defined set of symptoms, thus people commonly modified templates they'd find online to add symptoms they experience and remove those which they don't from the input fields. Beyond these modifications, users often kept free-form notes either as the primary logging mechanism or as an aside to a more formal chart or spreadsheet.
Based on this research, we came up with a concept for tracking which involved both a web and SMS component. The web component would allow users to set up a personalized symptom list, enter medication info when they start or stop taking them, view visualizations of progress, and enter data. The SMS component would provide an alternate mechanism for inputting symptom data into the system on the fly. Users could send symptom data in by using a self-selected keyword for the symptom and a simple severity scale, e.g. 1 to 5. By allowing users to input any keywords, they can establish a routine keyword to use but no recall is required. If they enter a different keyword than usual, they could move that data to the normal keyword in the online interface. To enter free-form notes, users could call a number from their phone and leave a voice message. By allowing mobile input, the reliance on memory is greatly reduced. Users can enter symptoms as they experience them, rather than having to wait until later in the day to record the data (as was often the case using current methods).
project lead, research, ideation