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The Problem of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain, defined as any persistent pain lasting more than three months, is a common, complex, and distressing problem that is rapidly emerging as a significant healthcare challenge with a profound impact on individuals and society.
It has been linked to restricted daily activity, increased medical expenses, lost productivity, anxiety, depression, dependence on opioid medications, poor perceived health, impaired quality of life, and more. Patients with chronic pain face many problems in obtaining prompt and adequate relief.
A Potential Solution
Newer mobile technologies, including those powered by artificial intelligence, have immense potential to enhance the effectiveness, accessibility, and affordability of treatments for chronic pain. Chronic pain sufferers can benefit from such mobile apps and technology in the following domains:
1. Access to careIt will take fewer pain specialists to effectively treat and monitor the rapidly increasing number of pain patients, leading to improved access to health care, reduced costs, and enhanced clinical outcomes.
2. Tracking of pain and affecting factorsPain assessment is usually performed by clinicians using onsite, self-report, and single ratings based on recall, resulting in high variability and error. Mobile apps provide an innovative and promising alternative to these traditional assessment methods, ensuring regular evaluation of pain levels, physical activity, medication usage, diet, sleep, and mental health. Electronic diaries are more effective than paper diaries as they present a clear picture that reveals hidden patterns.
3. App-based delivery of therapyDelivering interventions via smartphones ensures accessibility to a wider population and scalability as and when needed. Accurate telemonitoring with mobile apps can help in the personalisation of pain treatment by rapid adjustments on an individual basis.
Self-management using mobile apps reduces pain-related anxiety and catastrophic thinking among patients experiencing chronic pain. Internet and AI-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) carries the potential to make behavioural treatment more accessible and cost-effective and can serve as a supplement or even alternative to traditional CBT. Mobile apps can also be used to guide patients through alternative therapies, including mindfulness, yoga, music therapy, and other modalities.
4. Access to peer support
It may be difficult to have therapists on call 24/7, but fellow chronic pain patients across time zones are always available. Mobile apps are helpful for setting up connections among chronic pain patients and may bridge the crucial gap until further medical consultation.
Chronic Pain Management: The Present Scenario
Mobile apps like Symple allow patients to track their pain and related progress by charting their daily experiences. Apps like PainScale provide added access to pain relief information and educational materials. Patients can get support from their peers with the help of apps like Therapeer and Ellipsis Health. Then there are tools capable of algorithmically analysing the patient’s voice for signs of anxiety or depression.
Although many chronic pain apps exist in the market, the majority of them lack the involvement of healthcare professionals and end-users during their development, which affects the clinical utility of these applications. Lack of time, poor reliability, liability concerns, and insufficient evidence may deter physicians from recommending pain apps.
Also, it is not certain that the patient will download and continue to use the app long-term. Virtual Reality is a novel technology for pain management and has produced encouraging results, such as reduction in pain scores of wound dressing, intraoperative pain, labour pain, and multiple types of chronic pain.
Chronic Pain Management: Future Direction
Mobile applications and other technologies for pain management deserve special attention in the years ahead, given the push toward eHealth tools and telemedicine. With the advancement of technology, there is significant potential for the incorporation of virtual reality devices as non-pharmacological therapy in multimodal pain management strategies.
Service users should be actively involved in the development and design of such technological approaches as this will improve their adoption. Pain management mobile apps should be developed with an unambiguous evidence base and the flexibility to tailor relevant content to the service user.
Finally, based on available recommendations, the applications should be regularly assessed and analysed by healthcare professionals for integration into pain assessment and management.