Programming to Kick Smoking Habit

August 4, 2014
Aimee Simone, Associate Editor

Pharmacy student Saranpreet Nagra is combining his passions for computer programming and pharmacy to help patients quit smoking.

Pharmacy student Saranpreet Nagra is combining his passions for computer programming and pharmacy to help patients quit smoking.

Before starting pharmacy school at the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at the University of Pacific, Saranpreet Nagra spent his summer teaching himself computer programming—a skill he thought had nothing to do with pharmacy. Now, the 2016 PharmD candidate is using his passions for programming and pharmacy to create a smoking cessation mobile application.

“After starting pharmacy school, I had originally decided to put programming on the back burner,” he said in an interview with Pharmacy Times. “But after a couple of semesters, I realized I should be trying to find intersections between programming and pharmacy instead of thinking of them as separate fields.”

For his first project exploring those connections, he decided that an application for smoking cessation would satisfy both areas. Smoking cessation is not only an important issue in patient care, but there are also defined and accepted algorithms for choosing a plan for the patient, Nagra said.

Although there are many smoking cessation apps currently available, Nagra approached the problem from the pharmacist’s perspective. The app asks patients simple questions about their current health status and uses the responses to recommend the best over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy product.

“Most apps that deal with nicotine replacement therapies leave the user to read through all of the product information and select which to use on their own,” Nagra said. “By providing more of a guided approach, we hope to increase patient compliance by increasing the probability that the patient has chosen the right product for them.”

When recommending a product, the app provides instructions for use and a list of common side effects. The app also checks for common contraindications, and suggests that patients consult with their primary care providers if they do have a conflicting condition. In addition, the app allows users to set a quit date, and sends notifications to remind users of that date.

Nagra also hopes to collect data for a research project through the app. Patients who use the app can choose to participate in a study that will track the success of the approach to smoking cessation.

“If I am able to show positive results with my research, then I can provide a model for future projects to push innovation even further with personalized technology driven health care,” he explained.

To cover the costs of the app development, Nagra started a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $2000. The campaign will end on August 20, 2014, and will only collect the funds if the full amount is pledged.

For more information on the app and the campaign, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/snagra/quit-smoking-ios-app-and-research-project; or email Nagra at s_nagra1@u.pacific.edu.