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Chronic Pain? There’s an App for That!

February 2016

By Tom Stibolt, MD, Mobile Musings Column Editor

Chronic pain affects possibly 100 million Americans. It is believed to affect at least 10 percent of the world’s population, with a prevalence closer to 20-25 percent in some countries. It can stem from many causes. In the U.S. it is estimated that medical costs associated with the condition can reach up to $635 billion annually. This makes it many times more expensive to manage than other conditions that require long-term treatment, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed an app designed to help patients and their doctors better manage chronic pain. The app was designed with substantial input from the center’s doctors. It is part of a broader trend in which medical institutions are increasingly looking to streamline communication between patients and providers using the messaging features and data-tracking tools in smartphones.

The app is called PMC 320, and it is available for both iOS and Android. It is designed to quickly document ongoing pain levels, give reminders, track medication usage, and provide general information and helpful tips regarding a patient’s condition. It also provides tutorials for helping patients manage their chronic pain condition between visits with their provider. A built-in, secure two-way messaging feature is available to assist in communicating on especially bad days.

The app was initially tested by about 70 patients under the care of three doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and another 12 patients at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. At least once a day, the testers are prompted to answer questions about their pain levels, mood, activity levels, and other health metrics. The app works with a Fitbit, which transmits information about steps walked and other activity indicators to the app. One tester, who had surgery for cancer that had metastasized to his lymph nodes, found the app helpful after using it for about a month, during repeat visits. The app helps him to talk to his physician about what he needs in terms of short-term pain management. Going into treatment he knew that “there were good days and bad days,” but he never thought to record his daily comfort level. The app has made it more convenient to do so, and he now logs his pain levels two or three times a day and has been working with his doctor to see how his activity levels relate to his more painful episodes.

PMC 320 is free to download and appears beneficial, even in the absence of Fitbit integration or use of the messaging feature.


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

Last Reviewed: September 2017