An app for smartphones designed to help people stop smoking, combining game-like features with elements of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has been developed by a group of medical students at Imperial College London.
The app is based around the popular "talking treatment" of CBT, which helps people to manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. While typically used to treat anxiety and depression, CBT can also be useful in treating other mental and physical health problems, including addiction.
Using game-like features for tracking progress and videos delivered by an animated personal doctor, the app motivates users to stick to targets and achieve personal goals. It is the first app to offer personalised behavioural support to those wanting to quit their tobacco addiction.
“As medical students, almost every day we see patients who are suffering from the consequences of smoking cigarettes, many of whom want to quit but lack the necessary support,” said Yusuf Sherwani, a medical student at ICL who led development of the app.
The NHS is currently only able to provide behavioural support to around nine per cent of UK smokers who want to quit. The app was created to help fill this gap in the medical sector, while creating an appealing platform for help and advice by building on the popularity of mobile games.
"We really hope this app takes off and transforms the support available to them. We believe it could be a game-changer,” said Sherwani.
Details of the project were presented at the British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting, which took place in London on Wednesday.
“This is a really interesting prototype and we look forward to seeing further developments of the game and research about its effectiveness,” said Dr Sanjay Agrawal, consultant lung specialist and chair of the British Thoracic Society's Tobacco Special Advisory Group
“I like the idea of combining cognitive behavioural theory with the power of fun in a stop smoking game. Its other potential benefits are its cost effectiveness and sheer reach by using smartphone technology. We'll await further results with interest.”