Name: Natalie Hayden
Condition: Crohn’s disease
How long she’s been living with Crohn’s: 14 years
When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in July 2005, the support for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients was next to nil. I was unaware of any patient advocates. Facebook had just launched, and I was nowhere near ready to disclose my personal health struggles on social media. I was 21 and told I had a lifelong illness, and had nowhere to go for help with daily life.
Fast-forward to 2020 and patients have support right at their fingertips, every minute of every day. Whether it’s the apps dedicated to managing IBD, various social media channels, or blogs and podcasts, it’s a whole new ballgame for people living with an IBD. And for that I am grateful.
What Is Gali?
Gali, launched in October 2019, is a free app that works as an AI-powered personal health assistant for people affected by Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. You will find beneficial, medically vetted articles, tools to track everything from your mental health to your symptoms, and a direct connection to a knowledgeable IBD community made up of physicians and patient ambassadors.
As you scroll through the feed, you’ll see familiar faces from the IBD community along with videos and articles shared by reputable, well-known organizations, such as the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Wondering who to follow on social media so you can reach out directly to those who understand your patient experience? You can take the patient ambassador names from the app, look up people on Instagram and Twitter, and instantly be connected with those who are open and transparent about their experience and wanting to help others.
Gali is tailored to respond to each user's personal health journey and works proactively to provide a wide range of support. In the Chat section you can even have a private chat with Gali and tell “her” (yes, Gali Health refers to the app as a “her”) what’s on your mind, like a journal. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting your words out to feel heard and understood.
The app runs on iPhone models 6 and above. The Android version will be available soon.
Here’s What Happened When I Tried It
As someone who’s lived with Crohn’s for more than 14 years, I’ve checked out most apps on the market that are geared for IBD. I was impressed by several unique features that Gali provides for patients. Not only was the design clean and intuitive, it was visually pleasing and laid out in a way that allowed me to efficiently input my information. And it has a nice personal touch. For example, when I check into the app at night, the homepage on the says, “Good evening, Natalie. How can I help you today?” It’s the little details that make a big difference.
Since Gali uses AI technology, the app takes information shared by users and turns it into actionable collective intelligence to help empower and support patients. The resulting content is delivered as “insights,” which are like little whispers in your ear from an understanding friend.
Details that patients may not want to share publicly on social media or with friends and family is revealed as insights only for those who can relate. That intelligence in turn provides knowledge that helps the app better support individual health journeys. For example, Gali shows me everything from “13 evidence-based benefits of yoga” to a hydration challenge, because when I entered my health information for the week I said I was struggling with self-care and dehydration.
I enjoy the fact that the app allows some give and take. Rather than just scrolling and reading information, I can read Gali's daily prompts and reminders to track my symptoms and record my health information so that I get a truly personalized experience.
Three Things I Liked About Gali
The unpredictability that comes along with an IBD like Crohn’s sometimes leaves me feeling out of control when it comes to managing and staying on top of my health. Gali renews my commitment to understanding my triggers and being mindful of just how symptomatic I may be, even when in remission.
Here are three reasons I find the app helpful:
1. It addresses daily and weekly challenges. So often as a patient I tend to sugarcoat my realty. If a loved one or friend asks me about having Crohn’s, I tend to say everything is fine, because it gets exhausting to try and explain the intricacies of the illness to those who don’t quite understand it. Gali provides a safe space to be honest with myself and confront my struggles before they overtake me.
Unless I’m asked about what I’m struggling with, it’s easy to ignore the fact that something in my life is lacking, or maybe that I’m not prioritizing my health. Since I'm a mom of two, my health and needs quickly drop below other demands on my list of priorities. Depending on what challenges I’m going through, Gali responds with content to fit my needs. I feel heard and understood.
2. It monitors health and treatment. Tracking daily symptoms and receiving medication reminders is incredibly helpful. By staying on top of these details, my doctor and I can note any trends or new triggers for IBD.
The charts and analytics paint a clear picture of how I am doing and provide guidance that can make a big difference when I go to my next GI appointment or try to explain a flare through an online patient portal with my physician.The charts are created from my responses to questions about things that are affecting me in my daily life. For instance, “Did you feel light-headed? What was your level of urgency to go to the bathroom? What was your level of fatigue? How many times did you have a BM today?”
The Health and Daily Treatment monitors are great for keeping tabs on how I’m doing over several days, so I can try and nip a flare in the bud. The charts also help show whether my symptoms are steady, improving, or progressively getting worse.
3. Users can share content. I love the fact that Gali gives users the opportunity to share educational, actionable, and reassuring information through the app. Whether it’s a short entry about a personal experience I had that I think will help others, an article, audio of a funny joke that I think others will find amusing, or a meme or image that I think will resonate with the IBD community, I like the fact that I can determine what’s “newsworthy” and share information directly with my peers to help them cope.
Three Things I Disliked About Gali
Since this app was launched a matter of months ago, not all features are available yet, and there are some areas that need improvement, including:
1. Lack of Patient-to-Patient Connection While being able to share insights and read articles and information is beneficial, there’s a lack of person-to-person or patient-to-patient interaction. The app only allows you to reach out directly to Gali, not to specific patients or physicians.
2. Restrictions for Users Under Age 18 You must be 18 or older to access the site, which I think is a mistake, because there are so many teenage patients who would benefit immensely from this app. In my opinion, it’s the younger population that is more tech savvy and reliant on tracking their lives through apps. So many newly diagnosed teens could utilize Gali to answer personal questions and provide support that they may be lacking from their peers and families who are navigating the new normal with them.
3. The Reward System for Sharing Insights When you share insights, the app gives you points that you can use to buy special products. But I’d prefer it if users could be rewarded with gift cards to places like Amazon or Target. It takes time and energy to be interactive and thoughtful about the content you choose to share with others. I would prefer a cash reward so I have more options in terms of what rewards I can get, including basic necessities, like food and clothes for my family, or even something like toilet paper.
The Bottom Line
Overall, as an IBD patient advocate and avid blogger, I am impressed by Gali. I feel the user experience is a positive one and can empower patients to take control of their lives. I would highly recommend the Gali app to people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. The app serves as a resource to help me remain aware of how the disease is affecting me physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Other Ways I Manage Crohn’s disease
Along with apps like Gali, I manage Crohn’s disease in a variety of ways. Even though I have been in remission since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015, I have remained on my biologic injection and take daily vitamins and supplements.
Here are other things I do to maintain health and well-being:
- I practice self-care as often as I can. As a mom of two little ones, taking time for myself is a major challenge. Still, I try to take at least 30 minutes a day to go for a walk outside, read a magazine, journal, or do yoga. Relaxing my mind and clearing my head from the stress of the day keeps me calm and helps keep symptoms at bay.
- I limit caffeine intake and stay away from trigger foods. As much as I wish I could chug coffee all day, a simple cup of joe sends me running for the toilet. I’m mindful of what I eat and drink and stay away from foods like popcorn and nuts, which tend to exacerbate my symptoms.
- I listen to my body’s cues. I’m a Type-A, high-energy person. I’m always go-go-go. But the way I navigate this disease at 36 as a wife and a mom of two is much different than when I was 21 and fresh out of college. If I notice symptoms peaking, I alert my GI immediately. If I feel fatigued, I rest or go to bed earlier. I’ve learned to recognize what my limitations are and how I can put myself in the best place to live as healthily as possible.