- UK residents will soon be able to use a prescribed – and reimbursed - mHealth wearable to manage chronic pain.
The National Health System has given its approval to the ActiPatch, a wearable device that manages peripheral nerve activity to help users suffering from pain. The government-funded health service will now allow UK physicians to prescribe ActiPatch Musculoskeletal Pain Therapy and reimburse them for the digital health offering.
“This is a major win for pain sufferers in the UK, since they will now be able to obtain a prescription for ActiPatch, the cost of which will be covered by the government,” Ian Rawe, PhD, Director of Clinical Research for BioElectronics, the Maryland-based developer of the ActiPatch, said in a press release. “We commend this move by the NHS, as this will open up the doors for reimbursement in the US and other managed care markets.”
UK researchers estimated in 2016 that roughly 43 percent of the nation’s adult population, or about 29 million people, are affected by chronic pain (estimates have placed that figure at 100 million in the US). As in the US and other countries, treatment generally consists of a combination of physical therapy and medication – the likes of which have led to an increase in opioid dependence and abuse.
BioElectronics officials say NHS approval was linked to a study in which treatment with the mHealth wearable helped reducers reduce their trips to the doctor’s office by almost 60 percent and cut prescription drug costs by 35 percent, resulting in an overall reduction in healthcare costs of 45 percent.
mHealth advocates have long seen wearable devices As a means for helping patients manage their pain without the need for costly treatment or drugs.
In 2016, the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego launched a project with Massachusetts-based NeuroMetrix to test the company’s Quell wearable and mHealth platform on patients with cancer.
“This primary end point was chosen to provide a novel way for patients with cancer to have optimal pain control while reducing their overall opioid use,” STSI officials said. “The study will also examine the potential benefits of Quell as a digital health intervention. The device integrates with a smartphone app that includes electronic pain tracking and provides objective feedback to the subject about their therapy utilization and sleep.”
Even the US Military is interested. Last May, the Department of Defense announced an investment of some $6 million in a four-year project to develop mHealth tools for pain relief. Much of that investment is going into Cleveland-based SPR Therapeutics and its SPRINT Peripheral Nerve Stimulation (PNS) System, a wearable device designed to stimulate nerves around the affected part of the body to achieve pain relief.
“Many of our service members and veterans experience excruciating, debilitating post-amputation pain,” said Col (Ret.) Steven P. Cohen, MD, Director of Pain Research at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in a press release. “There is a clear military benefit to developing effective and innovative pain relief therapies and to providing treatment beyond conventional painkillers.”
“We’re seeing a greater desire among physicians to use drug-free therapies such as neurostimulation for the relief of chronic and acute pain,” Maria Bennett, SPR Therapeutics’ founder, president and CEO, said in an October 2016 press release. “Opioids have almost no long-term efficacy data and are known to cause abuse, addiction and death. Neurostimulation is a safe, effective treatment for sustained pain relief.”
Yet another idea is the use of virtual reality headsets. Health systems like Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai are pioneering research in the use of VR headsets to help patients manage pain.
“This has potential to treat pain in a way that doesn’t require [medication],” says Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, a gastroenterologist who has treated hundreds of patients with VR.
mHealth companies like BioElectronics are positioning themselves to take on the growing opioid crisis, responsible for close to 100 deaths a day in the US.
“While there may be many policy solutions to mitigate the crisis, there is an urgent need to deploy solutions that can save as many lives as possible,” the company says on its website. “At least half of all opioid-related deaths involve a prescription opioid, revealing a chilling fact: the opioid crisis is being fueled by the lack of a safe alternative for chronic pain.”
READ MORE: UK Unveils New mHealth Reimbursement Program
“Providing a non-prescription, safe intervention for chronic pain can prevent the risky journey of prescription opioid medication, and thus overdose deaths,” the company continues. “Up to 85 percent of chronic pain is musculoskeletal in nature, i.e., knee pain, back pain, neck pain etc. There is credence in deducing that a solution for chronic musculoskeletal pain can serve as the first line of defense against opioid abuse.”