17 Jun How One App Looks to Beat Chronic Pain in Children
Post written by Nithya Chandiramani
The intersection of inspiration, innovation, and good intention sparked the creation of the novel iBeatPain app. The perceptive visionaries behind this app included Dr. Tracy Harrison (MD), a pediatric anesthesiologist, and Dr. Jennifer Fisher (Ph.D, L.P), a pediatric psychologist, at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Harrison, Dr. Fisher, and their team collaborated with Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation to turn their idea into reality.
The original inspiration behind the iBeatPain app stemmed from a problem that professionals in the pediatric chronic pain clinic identified through their patient interactions. Dr. Harrison articulated how the multidisciplinary team of pain medicine, physical medicine, and psychology professionals expressed frustration at how overwhelming instructions and recommendations were to patients.
Dr. Harrison posed a question to illustrate what might be going through patients’ minds when they are faced with a sea of information, but are unaware of what the next step is:
“What do you do when you leave Mayo Clinic on a Wednesday afternoon, what can you do that afternoon or evening to start becoming more functional?"
Part of the frustration was on behalf of professionals, who made good recommendations but struggled with how to simplify them such that they could be understandable and feasible to patients. The other half of the frustration came from patients themselves. When patients were in pain or dealing with chronic medical issues the notion of becoming functional presented a challenging feat.
Dr. Fisher also discussed how a diverse group of patients are seen from all over the country and world, sometimes resulting in patients being given the wrong advice from where they come from or where they return to. She continued to explain how chronic pain patients may be told to rest and relax or not go to school, when in fact that is the opposite of what they should be doing.
They should be actively trying to return to their normal routines and overcome their pain. They needed tangible goals and an accountability system that would empower them to do those things. Professionals needed a tool they could give to children that would define goals to help them attempt everyday tasks that are integral for functioning, but may seem very overwhelming at the moment.
Thus, these problems became the inspiration that culminated in the iBeatPain app.
iBeatPain is the medium that would enable patients to journey through that transition from small steps to greater strides. More specifically, the iBeatPain app was designed to target pediatric patients with chronic pain problems, with a focus on physical pain and fatigue. Dr. Harrison elaborated on how this app served to “break down the vital components of a normal day.”
This could include anything from attending school to sleep schedules and everything in between. For example, this app might help regulate the time a child wakes up, their physician might have recommended waking at a particular time with no fluctuation, so the app would help them set a routine for something as simple as that.
When they are in pain a task as simple as rising out of bed may be a huge endeavor, but being able to make the goal and then follow through would make that task more attainable each time. She described this app as enabling patients to set well-defined goals, so they could take small, successful steps that would motivate them to continue making progress.
The logistics of the app include various categories that children can select, such as self-care, and establish tangible goals that they can work towards. Some of the unique aspects of this app, making it so appealing, is the fact that each patient can personalize it to accommodate their specific goals, track their progress, and begin to take control of their healthcare, which will incentivize them to continue utilizing it. Another interesting feature is the app's inspiration box.
Dr. Harrison and Dr. Fisher explained how this component would allow kids to insert quotes, pictures, videos, etc. to keep themselves motivated when they find it difficult to follow through on goals or work past the pain. Sometimes all it takes is a few uplifting words or the smile of your best friend to get you back on your feet.
The final feature I want to highlight is how this app embodies a holistic focus on improving functional mobility. Many apps only assess pain, when in fact, Dr. Harrison mentioned how their goal was not to measure pain. Dr. Fisher emphasized how patients need to know they can control their functioning and still lead the lives they want, the pain and associated symptoms do not have to be hurdles that are impossible to overcome.
Now, you may ask, if this app is focused on improving functionality then why is it named iBeatPain?
The title cleverly focused on pain, otherwise patients would not feel like they are understood, the rhetoric of pain helps to show that it is acknowledged and helps patient take ownership, as Dr. Harrison explained. Pain and functionality are inextricably tied together so by focusing on functionality that in and of itself is a step toward overcoming the barriers of pain. Dr. Fisher shed some light on the direction they would like to see this app taking.
She described how this app is not anticipated to be a stand-alone device; its success is going to require collaboration between therapists, physicians, parents and anyone else involved in the patient's recovery and goal making process.
They would like to eventually work in a reward or accountability system where progress or lack thereof will be emailed to patients or those involved in their care. For now, she said
“this [app] can be thought of as a fancy to do list, a fancy way of saying what's important.”
Some of the simple everyday tasks that we take for granted may seem counterintuitive when it comes time to re-acquaint yourself to them. She explained how patients usually look for a pill or surgery to cure their pain, but what they might not consider is the effects of “exercise, relaxation, and positive thinking,” which this app includes.
As a young adult, I really appreciate apps that are accessible, easy to use, and are on technology. With every generation technology is becoming an integral part of all facets of our lives from personal to professional. Thus, I think that this is a great way to reach out to kids who are constantly on their phones or tablets. Additionally, I think having an app that provides universal categories and goals will help to preclude some of the cultural and medically conflicting instructions that patients from diverse backgrounds may be receiving.
Innovation can embody many forms, especially technological ones; iBeatPain is a step in the right direction, a step towards pediatric empowerment, and a step towards improving healthcare.