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There’s an App for That—Mobile Technology Meets Pain Management

There’s an App for That—Mobile Technology Meets Pain Management

Mobile technology (smartphones, iPads, etc) is increasingly being used to improve chronic pain care. These mobile apps can track patients from a distance and monitor pain, mood, physical activity, drug side effects, and treatment compliance, according to Robert Jamison, PhD, professor of anesthesia and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and pain psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who presented research on his own app during the APS meeting.1

One of the benefits of mobile technology is easy access to physicians. “Smartphone apps are helping the shrinking ranks of pain specialists treat and monitor rapidly increasing populations of chronic pain sufferers,” noted Dr. Jamison. “Today the ratio is 1 pain specialist for every 10,000 patients, but mobile technology allows for easy, time-effective coverage of patients at a low cost, offering significant opportunities to improve access to health care, contain costs, and improve clinical outcomes,” Dr. Jamison explained.
Dr. Jamison has developed and studied his own smartphone apps for monitoring pain patients. He found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy could significantly decrease pain levels, improve function, and decrease costs compared to standard care. “Online networks, for example, can promote communication, distraction, information sharing, self expression, and social support,” he said. 
A key feature of the pain management app is daily pain tracking, in which patients are asked 5 questions about their pain everyday, rate their pain intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, and compare with baseline ratings. Should pain ratings significantly increase from baseline or reach 9 or 10, the patient gets an immediate response that the pain specialist has been contacted. 
Another benefit of using mobile technology is the ease in which patients can keep electronic diaries. “Electronic diaries maintained by patients are more effective than paper diaries for evaluating pain levels, daily activities, treatment compliance, and mood.” he reported. 
Texting has also proven to be effective for managing patients with diabetes, hypertension, asthma, smoking cessation, and weight loss. In his ongoing research, Dr. Jamison is studying 60 patients with chronic cancer and non-cancer pain who use pain management smartphone apps. “We hypothesized that the pain management smartphone app will help providers track patients and reduce emergency department visits and hospitalizations by 50%,” said Dr. Jamison. 
Dr. Jamison noted that, on average, 70% to 90% of pain patients respond to text messages and that high responders show improved pain levels. He added that the smartphone data is transmitted into the patient’s electronic medical record each day.
1. Jamison R. There is an app for that: Using mobile technology to improve chonic pain. Presented at: American Pain Society 2014 Medical Meeting, Tampa, FL, April 30-May 4, 2014.
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