Easy-to-use, not-for-profit app DiaFriend hopes to benefit diabetics in the SouthCoast and beyond
Android users can now utilize a new mobile app to monitor glucose levels, exercise, carbohydrate intake, and medication record, thanks to a UMass Dartmouth Master’s in Computer Science student.
Bhargavi Govardhanam ‘23 recently published DiaFriend, assisting Assistant Professor Peeranuch LeSeure’s research project, “The Development of a Patient-Centered Diabetes Application for Self-Management Support in Portuguese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Millitus.” The application prototype, funded by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences Pilgrim Fund Seed Grants, is a simple-to-use, user-centered application with no premium membership or advertisements.
Helping the local community
“I’ve worked on healthcare projects before, but never on something so directly impacting a client,” said Bhargavi. “I’d be really happy if something of my work is used in healthcare and helps people. Multiple members of my family are doctors, so it’s cool to use my strengths in coding to help impact the healthcare industry in my own way.
“Professor LeSeure’s research found that citizens of Portuguese descent, who make up a large demographic in the SouthCoast, are often underprivileged with access to health services and medical care. DiaFriend is easy to use for all, but we made sure to include staples of the Portuguese diet in our calorie and carbohydrate counters.”
Many apps exist for this purpose, but they’re often filled with too many options, requirements, or advertisements, confusing and frustrating users simply looking to track their food intake. DiaFriend is not for profit, offering a service for the good of a community, particularly the underserved population of the SouthCoast.
Making a difference
Bhargavi, a native of Hyderabad, India, has worked on web development in teams before, but this was her first experience developing a mobile application prototype, working independently, and using Google’s new UI software, Flutter.
Creating a mobile app typically demands a full team of designers, developers, testers, and a project manager working full-time. Alone, and being given just 10 hours a week to work on the project, “simple” tasks like changing the shape of a logo, which requires multiple pages of code, could be considered a full day’s work.
“Though funding for my work on the app ended in March, and the project wasn’t done yet, I continued working on it, as it was for a noble cause, and I wanted to bring it live so it could help people and make a difference,” said Bhargavi. “I was able to present DiaFriend at UMassD’s ‘Share Your Research Series’ in late April and publish the app prototype on the Google Play Store in June.
“While presenting the app, a student with grandparents of Portuguese descent said they’d tried other apps to monitor their health and lifestyle, but quickly grew frustrated and quit them. He said DiaFriend was exactly the type of app they were looking for, which was the best feedback I could get, as it means the app will have fulfilled its purpose!”
“We were very impressed with Bhargavi’s front-end development skills and ability to make the screen display so modernized and attractive,” said LeSeure. “She devoted a lot of time to self-educating and worked closely with CIS Professor and co-researcher, Shelley Zhang, to better understand Flutter and develop the app."
A “jack of all trades”
Bhargavi, who also works as a Student Assistant for the university’s library digital systems, and as a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Research Administration, has worked on hundred-person web development teams to support web pages at AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Walgreens, and Walmart, but credits this mobile app development with providing her valuable lessons and experience with new technology, as well as the process and project management.
“Building this app was a great learning experience for me. I learned a new technology in Flutter and the complete picture of the development process, which will help develop my management skills when working in teams,” said Bhargavi. “It’s also opened various opportunities for me, as multiple employers have reached out with offers.
“I definitely want to continue building more apps going forward. Today, wherever there is a website, there is a mobile app, and vice versa. Being able to develop both makes me a more valuable asset to my employer.”
The prototype of DiaFriend is designed in such a way that it can be used as a building block for many other applications across domains. While working on other projects for her Master’s degree, Bhargavi plans to code DiaFriend for the Apple App Store in her spare time, as the project has grown to mean a lot to her, and she wants as many people to have access to help as possible.