Although there is a great emphasis in disease prevention and treatment, very little emphasis has been given to pain management and control at the hospital or outside the hospital. Currently, there are over 5820 medical related applications available for free or for a small fee for the iPhone and Android phones and over approximately 111 smartphone applications help to manage pain.
What are applications?
Applications are downloadable, highly visual and easy to use programs coded in different languages based on the smartphone’s running operating system (OS, UNIX or Windows based). Most applications these days connect to the web and collect information live (GPS, read barcodes, etc..) and are usually available free of charge or for a very small fee (<$15.00 USD).
It is worrisome that there is currently no FDA approval or expert oversight required for the generation and selling of medical related smartphone applications. In addition, only a small fraction of those applications are created by a medical doctor, nurse or healthcare professional which underscores the need to involve the healthcare industry in creating more and robust valuable medical related applications to improve the quality of life.
A study published recently in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare carried out a thorough and robust study analyzing the validity, usefulness, and practicality of all pain management applications across all smartphone platforms. Not surprisingly, the authors of the study found that the majority of pain management applications were available for the iPhone (79%), the Android (16%) or Blackberry (5%) while no applications have been created for the Nokia/Symbian or Windows Mobile.
The applications focused on a range of pain categories (acute, chronic, sharp, localized, diffused, low, moderate, high, neuropathic, phantom pain, etc…) and specific health conditions with some overlap and the authors found that approximately 79% of applications were classified as primarily designed to be pain-relevant.
Types of applications
Application sizes ranged from a few kilobytes to a hundreds of megabytes and cost ranged from free to about $10.00 USD. About 24% of all applications have some type of journal/diary function that allows the user to record the localization, type and intensity of pain on a daily basis and how the pain affected daily chores and the quality of life. A few of the applications also emphasized the emotional aspect of pain which usually contributes significantly to pain intensity. In addition to using a pain scale (1 through 10 for most intense), these applications provide emoticons that can be used to describe the emotional component of pain. Over half of the applications included medical and technical related information about pain (symptoms, underlying causes, treatment) and includes a variety of pain reducing or quelling techniques such as massage therapy, and topical treatments. Information about acupuncture and headache prevention were included in a few applications. Only 17% of all applications contain hypnosis and relaxation related techniques as additional tools to help alleviate and quell different types of pain.
These are the most popular pain related applications:
1.Habit changer- It costs $2.00 and maybe a quick and simple e-book for pain management. Habit Changer is a 42 Day Challenge system that helps you kick old habits and experience a new way of living by accessing and heeding a full range of medical related advice. There are no videos and is mostly a text-based application.
2.Pocket Therapy- Costs $4.00. Own a pain management medical encyclopedia with all sorts of factoids! The Pocket Therapy app provides a list of painful injuries. Information on cause, location and symptoms associated with each injury is provided, along with exercises to improve range of motion and strength.
3. Chronic Pain Tracker- The best application with great reviews so far! It is free for the raw/bare version of the application and other modules can be added for a fee. Statistics is the key for making fundamental medical related decisions and the application allows the user to usually highlight the area of the body that is affected by pain on an hourly to daily basis. The application will graph intensity and duration of pain and generate all sorts of quantifiable data that can be analyzed by healthcare professional. It also contains a medication diary that keeps track of the doses and types of medication taken by the patient on a daily basis.
4. My Pain Diary- For a very small price, you can track and record the pain intensity, location, type, trigger, remedy taken and free-text notes. it is a very simple application. Pain intensity is rated on a scale from 0–10 and the data can be relayed to a healthcare professional for further analysis.
5. iPosture- This application tracks the posture and stance of each patient using the iPosture tracking sensor (this device is not free for $70.00 USD). The more the patient crouches or arches the body is related to increased propensity for developing abdominal or back pain. The sensor will alert you through your application of maintaining a correct posture and monitors your balance on a daily basis.
The University of Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital has published and made available their own smartphone application that is relevant for pediatric related health relaetd conditions and pain care. The application is called ChildrenPGH and can be downloaded for the iPhone and iPad here: http://www.techburgh.com/2011/03/25/childrens-hospital-of-pittsburgh-of-upmc-launches-an-iphone-app/
The downside of all pain management applications-
As you can see, there is not one application created by medical or healthcare professionals as most of them have been created by software engineers. The downside with all these applications is that there are currently no pain related applications for the healthcare professional that allows him/her to monitor, track, access and communicate with their patients through their smartphones. It is important to mantain doctor to patient relationship outside the clinical setting and creating a more thorough and useful pain management application can help reduce the number of unnecessary hospital visits related to pain.
Rosser BA, Eccleston C. Smartphone applications for pain management J Telemed Telecare.2011;17(6):308-12. Epub 2011
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