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A Different Approach to Managing Chronic Pain

May 2017

By Tom Stibolt, MD, Mobile Musings Column Editor

About a year ago I wrote about an app for chronic pain. It was developed at Harvard and helped patients track pain and medication use. Now, researchers at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles are testing an app that takes a different approach to managing chronic pain. It is called Ella and is the result of work by Peder Sande who is also the CEO of Ella. Sande has spent many years working on complementary interventions that pair well with traditional medical practices. He is a neuroscientist expert who received an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. Subsequently he has worked as a science advisor at the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education and a research fellow at The Mind and Life Institute.

He has studied how ancient mental training techniques, like meditation, can change the actual structure and function of the brain. Ella represents a melding of science, mindfulness, and medicine for chronic pain sufferers with the goal of allowing them to get their lives back. His approach does not eliminate pain but instead changes the cognitive and affective processing of pain in the central nervous system.

Ella is currently a Web app which uses back-end software from Firebase Analytics to keep data synced, handle authentication and provide file storage. The plan is to rebuild it as native Android and iOS apps.

The program involves short breath awareness exercises that when completed daily, are supposed to decrease sensitivity to pain and lower stress from dealing with the condition of chronic pain. Ella is completely online, allowing participation from anywhere. The system makes sure patients realize that they are not alone, so they join a class of 10 to 25 others. Together they perform mindfulness exercises with guidance from a certified coach.

Ella is currently available as a managed service for healthcare providers and integrates into their current software setup. This allows doctors to measure and monitor patient outcomes and track cost savings. If the Cedars Sinai trials go well the plan is to open Ella up in late 2017 to consumers as a standalone mobile product.

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Editor’s note: The ATS does not endorse any of the programs or products mentioned in this column.

Last Reviewed: September 2017