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mHealth Project to Use Digital Health Data to Identify, Treat Pain

Evidation Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital have launched an mHealth program to collect and analyze digital health data from sensors in wearables and smartphones to help people dealing with chronic pain.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital is helping to launch a study to determine whether mHealth data collected on smartphones and wearables can be used to help treat people with chronic pain.

The hospital is partnering with Evidation Health, a California-based digital analytics company launched out of the Stanford Health-GE Venture incubator, to capture “digital signals” from sensors in mobile devices and fitness bands. Researchers will study whether that data, combined with other information such as weather, diet, genomic information and medical data, can be used to identify when someone is in pain and develop care management plans for treatment.

Evidation Health is contributing up to $1 million for the Digital Signals in Chronic Pain (the DISCover Project), which will recruit as many as 10,000 participants, including 6,000 with chronic pain.

“The widespread use of wearables, sensors and digital health tools gives us an opportunity to quantify the real lives of patients who suffer from chronic pain - now a critically important public health condition in the US,” Deborah Kilpatrick, PhD, Evidation Health’s CEO, said in a press release. “We are running this large-scale pain study to gain powerful insights on how behavioral factors are associated with health outcomes of chronic pain patients.”

“Novel research methodologies will enable the quantification of real-life outcomes in chronic pain across thousands of patients,” added Christine Sang, MD, MPH, director of Translational Pain Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a consultant to the study, in the release. “If successful, the real-life insights on individual patient-level experiences can inform our efforts to bring relief to the striking number of people with diverse experiences of chronic pain.”

One of the first to join the study is the company’s co-founder and CEO, Christine Lemke. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur has a rare genetic condition that causes frequent back pain.

"Sometimes we take on studies out of curiosity, especially for questions that aren't well studied or well understood," she recently told CNBC.

Evidation Health is well-known in the digital health space. In 2015, the company launched a partnership with Ochsner Health to help the New Orleans-based health system collect and analyze data from several mHealth programs and develop new interventions that could be applied across large populations.

The DISCover Project aims to tackle a condition affecting some 100 million Americans and providing ample fuel for the nation’s ongoing opioid addiction epidemic.

“Despite the high prevalence of chronic pain, finding effective treatment options is significantly complicated by the fact that each person experiences chronic pain in a different way day to day,” Evidation Health officials said in the press release. “This study aims to shed new light on the spectrum of chronic pain experiences in individuals through new digital methods.”

Healthcare providers and researchers have long been using mHealth tools and platforms to study pain and seek new ways to manage it. Just last month, the UK’s National Health System gave its approval for physicians to prescribe – and be reimbursed for – the ActiPatch, a wearable device that manages peripheral nerve activity to help users suffering from chronic pain.

In the US, meanwhile, organizations as diverse as the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego and the Department of Defense have launched programs to study the use of mHealth tools for pain relief. And Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles is one of several pioneering the use of virtual reality headsets for pain management.

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