Chronic pain affects up to 30% of the adult population. Many sufferers display significant reductions in daily functioning and quality of life. It is also associated with an elevated risk of insomnia, depression, suicidality, and anxiety.
Mobile devices can be used to deliver a multidisciplinary, mind-body therapy – collectively termed as mobile health (mHealth). It has been proposed as a cost-effective alternative to opioids for the self-management of chronic pain.
Table of Content
Pain mHealth apps can provide you with a wide range of features such as:
- Pain diary
- Reminders and alerts
- Physical exercise elements
- Educational content
- Treatment recommendations
- Chatbots or virtual assistants
- Direct communication with health care personnel
One approach to the categorization of mHealth apps is by their functionality. The most relevant functional categories of mHealth apps include:
- Support the clinical diagnosis and decision making
- Act as standalone digital therapeutics
- Improve clinical outcomes from established treatment modalities through behavior change and enhancement of patient compliance with treatment
- Primarily to deliver disease-related education
Clinical diagnostics mHealth apps
Pain assessment is a complex process characterized by high variability between and within days. It is usually performed by clinicians using self-report, onsite, single ratings, which are based on recall.
Enabling remote triage will help to distribute scarce resources better and improve the access and convenience of patient care. Since you only need a smartphone, this tangible benefit comes at a minimal cost.
mHealth apps for symptom checking
Interactive symptom checkers
Interactive symptom checkers are the most common category of diagnostic app. Most symptom checker apps are capable of delivering appropriate triage advice in 80% of emergency cases, which is equivalent to that seen from junior physicians and senior nurses.
The other major category of diagnostic apps uses algorithms to screen either photographs or data from smartphone embedded sensors.
Telemedicine can enable you to receive a medical diagnosis when geographically distant from your physician. It can reduce the time physicians spend on consultations, and it can also curb demand for facilities. Furthermore, telemedicine enables you to receive medical consultations from the comfort of your home, which is particularly helpful if you are residing in a medically underserved community.
Touch capable mHealth technology can enable your own hands to serve as remote surrogates for the physicians in the screening of acute pain. The system leverages only a smartphone with its native accelerators to guide you via a precise probing motion that matches the palpation motion predetermined by the physician. In consideration of how long an average trip to the clinic takes, this approach could represent a remarkable convenience and time-savings for a near-zero cost.
mHealth apps for disease monitoring
The use of mHealth technology might enable ecological momentary evaluations, whereby your physician can monitor you in real-time in your natural environment.
You can use the two-way messaging system to connect with your healthcare provider. When you receive feedback through the messaging system, you may be keener to use the app more frequently, thereby improving adherence.
Data from your mobile app should be seamlessly uploaded to a secure server connected to your physician’s EMR platform. The physicians can utilize a graphical interface to monitor your pain levels across time. You can also indicate on a visual analog scale whether your symptoms have improved or worsened.
mHealth apps for self-reporting
Pain, Enjoyment, and General Activity (PEG) scale
The pain data may be augmented by questions from the validated chronic pain PEG (Pain, Enjoyment, and General Activity) scale, which includes items on interference with function and enjoyment. The interference may also include data on self-administered pain management events, such as taking pain medications. A combination of PEG and pain management event real-time data can assist physicians in making decisions on the most effective management of chronic pain.
Body maps on a mobile device are a great communication tool for you to inform physicians regarding pain location, intensity, and quality. With this tool, physicians can promptly obtain detailed persistent information using the interface without prolonged conversations with you.
Standalone digital therapeutics apps
mHealth apps for physical therapy
mHealth integration is a convenient way to access exercise-based rehabilitation services remotely, and the outcomes can be collected in real-time. Artificial intelligence technology can be used to personalize you to a set of therapeutic exercises according to your individual needs.
During each of the 15-minute exercises, in-app 2D motion-tracking technology would monitor your real-time movements through the smartphone’s front-facing camera. The on-screen wireframe model would instead illustrate the steps.
Moreover, you will receive real-time audio feedback on your exercise performance to encourage you to achieve the ideal pose. There is also a built-in chat function that allows you to consult with a physical therapist regarding specific moves.
mHealth apps for remote coaching
Chronic pain coaching is a revolutionary intervention to manage the cognitive, physical, and psychoemotional ramifications of chronic pain. The innovative techniques can empower you to step into a leadership role when it comes to your health and wellness decisions.
The chronic pain coaching service can be delivered remotely in the form of short message service (SMS). Tailored content and interactivity are essential features of successful SMS interventions. It can improve self-management of symptoms, and promote long-term behavior change retention, including compliance with physical therapy. Remote pain-coping skills coaching can also be delivered via conferencing to reduce psychological distress and pain catastrophizing.
Behavioral change mHealth apps
mHealth apps are potentially powerful platforms for the delivery of behavioral change interventions. It can potentially improve long-term adherence to medication prescriptions.
Pain medication management
mHealth is crucial to facilitate medication adherence because smartphones are portable. It can allow you to keep your medical information on hand at any time, even in the event of severe pain.
You can store record your prescription data by scanning the 2D barcodes provided to you by healthcare providers. These codes can be used to maintain a copy of medication history on your smartphone when you get prescriptions. The medication history can be made available when visiting another healthcare professional. Furthermore, medication history in a smartphone can be incorporated into personal electronic health record systems.
The SMS system can be used as a medication reminder. It will repeat in intervals to display reminder messages on your smartphone until you input records of medication-taking. You will receive data regarding your adherence rate history. Automated reminders with mobile communication may be great for shared decision-making and also facilitates communication with healthcare providers.
The accessibility to medication records and adherence rate information may motivate you to become more involved in managing your medication.
Virtual reality for acute pain
Virtual reality (VR) is a computing environment that allows you an escape from real-life with immersive computer-generated imagery. Not only is it an excellent form of entertainment, but it shifts your attention away from your pain.
VR can also teach you how to manage your pain in the real world by offering immersive content on mindfulness, breathing techniques, and relaxation.
The biofeedback technique can help you to learn to control bodily functions. During biofeedback sessions, you will be connected to electrical sensors that help transmit information about your body. This biofeedback enables you to make subtle changes, such as relaxing specific muscles, to reduce pain. In essence, biofeedback lets you practice new ways to regulate your body and influence your pain perception. By harnessing the power of your mind and becoming aware of what’s going on in your body, you can gain more control over your health.
Electronic pain diary
The electronic pain diary can alert you to how your everyday life is affected by:
- Pain level
- Mood level
- Daily activities
From a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) standpoint, this could be useful, as increasing your awareness and ability to take a proactive role in your life is crucial.
Tracking progress with an electronic pain diary can deliver several benefits:
- Increase compliance
- Ease of data sharing
- Improve self-management of pain
- Focus on improvements rather than daily limitations
With appropriate design, training, and monitoring, an electronic pain diary can capture daily pain data on a large scale.
Educational mHealth apps
The smartphone app can be used to deliver educational support.
mHealth apps can deliver educational value by providing structured interactive content that is easily accessible to you.
The content is personalized to each patient and is delivered over several weeks to support behavior change. The program includes education about chronic pain, support for personal goal setting, and increasing functional capacity.
Anecdotally, such educational platforms may facilitate improvements in communication with healthcare providers. It could also enable a level of disease understanding that support shared decision making in the clinic.
mHealth educational platforms can also potentially provide treatment-related education during complex treatment schedules such as those in oncology. In these situations, mHealth tools can potentially be a trusted source of relevant treatment information associated with significant improvements in patient-reported quality of life.
Chatbot uses natural language processing technology to understand your messages and respond appropriately.
You will not be talking to a person. There is no real human hiding at the back of a chatbot to answer your questions. This means the chatbot function without much human supervision and can deploy to situations where humans are less available. At the same time, the chatbot requires a certain level of human support for handling emergency or adverse events.
The chatbots are built in a way that 80% of the informed conversation relationships are based around pleasant, small talks. In comparison, the remaining 20% is embedded with medical content relevant to you so that you will not be distracted by something else. All informational content is pre-scripted and closely aligned with the drug providers.
mHealth confers enormous potential for unprecedented real-world data generation.
Patients can be recruited for clinical studies promptly and inexpensively through an app. This means the participant numbers in mHealth trials may be far superior compared to traditional studies.
Once enrolled, data can be collected consistently through the app, leading to large amounts of data with a low risk of recall bias.
mHealth pain management apps can be integrated into the digital multidisciplinary pain management platform to provide holistic, non-invasive pain intervention. It is especially helpful in the disease course for patients at high risk of developing chronic pain. You can use the mHealth app while waiting to see a physician or even to continue your pain self-management after completion of hospital treatment.