By Subhro Mallik, SVP and head of life sciences business unit, Infosys
One in five Americans suffers from chronic pain. Apart from disrupting lives, chronic pain costs the U.S. about $300 billion in productivity every year. Treatment usually involves different types of interventions, such as medication, exercise therapy, cognitive behavioral treatment etc., and the participation of both patients and their healthcare providers. Unfortunately, a highly inadequate pain management infrastructure, which has fewer than 6,000 physicians for treating 50 million patients, is unable to give patients the one-on-one attention they need.
Because they are not supervised, many patients fail to keep up with the prescribed exercise regimen, which happens to be all-important for rehabilitating chronic pain. But now, there is a real possibility for care givers to use digital interventions to remotely monitor and engage with patients to improve compliance as well as treatment outcomes.
Several digital solutions, including mobile apps, sensors, digital medical devices, fitness trackers and wearables, play a role in chronic pain therapy. What’s more, they can be applied across lines of treatment to achieve different purposes – from improving medication adherence to enabling telerehabilitation. A major benefit of digital intervention is that it allows providers to design personalized treatment plans in collaboration with patients, which has been linked to improvement in self-care. Last but not least, these tools help pain management physicians and care givers stay connected to their patients. Here are some scenarios:
Connect with patients to motivate and engage
Providers can deploy a digital platform to gather data from patients’ mobile apps, fitness trackers, and devices to track exercise performance; this insight tells them if they need to personally intervene with feedback or a revised program. The platform itself can also act as a virtual coach, gamifying the exercise routine, supervising patients and motivating them to do better.
Studies show that better engagement makes a significant impact on treatment outcomes. When patients suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain were given a combination of education, sensor-guided exercise therapy, and one-on-one remote health coaching over a twelve-week-long program, they displayed high engagement and also reported reduction in pain.
Keep track of patients’ pain levels
Before doctors can treat chronic pain – a pain persisting for several months or more – they need to make a baseline assessment of the patient’s pain level. Mainly, that figure is determined from patients’ self-reported pain ratings. This can be tricky because most patients do not accurately recall how their pain has behaved over the past weeks or months.
Now a solution has emerged in the form of a digital diary where patients can record their symptoms in detail. The digital diary is a reliable, permanent record of the duration and progression of pain. Patients can even share that data online to enable physicians to personalize or tweak their treatment plans.
Motivate patients by setting clear, achievable goals
Setting clear goals and timelines not only improves treatment outcomes but also improves the doctor-patient relationship. Digital tools can be used to define objective targets and track performance against the pain management plan. Through visualizations and real-time feedback, the tools engage and motivate patients to work towards their goals. Physicians may also access this data to track patients’ progress or have more informed conversations. Such interactions can stand-in for face-to-face consultations, to reassure patients that they are getting the attention they need.
The tentacles of chronic pain go way beyond the physical, hurting the mental and emotional health of patients. People suffering from chronic pain often lack the motivation or confidence to follow their treatment plans. This is why participatory care is so crucial in chronic pain management. But the healthcare system is so under-resourced that providers are unable to give patients personal attention on a regular basis, causing patients to feel neglected. The good news is that digital technology can mitigate these issues by allowing providers to connect with, monitor, guide, and engage patients remotely.