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Dr. Robert Jamison on Using Smartphones to Manage Chronic Pain

JamisonA professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Robert Jamison is a clinical psychologist with over 30 years’ experience working with persons suffering from chronic pain. Recently, Dr. Jamison has been working on a smartphone app, PMC 320, that patients with chronic pain can use to communicate with their physicians and receive care. We spoke with Dr. Jamison about this app and the future of smartphones in medicine.

What led you to develop a smartphone app for your patients?

I’m a psychologist, and I deal with people with chronic pain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  These are people who experience pain constantly so it really interferes with all aspects of their lives – they can’t sleep well, activities make the pain worse, a lot of them are depressed and anxious and they’re on a lot of medications. Unfortunately, they also have flare ups and sometimes they go to the emergency room and it’s pretty expensive for them. So we were trying to figure out a way to better track some of the patients and support them better than we could just in short appointments.

We thought that we could incorporate pain assessments on to a smart phone. Essentially we have people rate their pain, activity and moods on their phones on a free app that’s available for iPhone and Android.  The clinic has a server that stores all of that data, which is then sent to the patients’ medical records.  So physicians can monitor and track any changes in the patients’ lives.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.51.26 AMSo who deals with all of that data? Will processing all of this newly generated data make care more expensive? 

We’re hoping that if patients have a flare up, individuals who are having a difficult time will get support through the app from their doctors instead of seeking expensive care in the emergency room or at another clinic. We hope that if patients feel better supported and cared for, hospital admissions will go down.

What impact do you think this has on the patient experience?  Do you think patients will feel more or less cared for?

The intent is for them to feel more cared for. Patients can get supportive messages directly from their physicians through the app, so patients get a sense that someone really is paying attention to them at all hours.

Are there any future updates in the works for this app?

We’re actually working on one right now. The goal is to include more updates in this version so that we’re not only monitoring what’s going on, but also giving patients reminders about their appointments and medications. So it should help the clinic in terms of getting people to come in for their appointments and communicating information more efficiently than having someone at the clinic call users individually.

Do you have any concerns about the security of health information that’s being transmitted this way?

That’s always a concern, and it’s an ongoing concern whenever you’re collecting identifying health information. We went through lots of testing to make sure that the information stays private. All data is stored in a server that isn’t connected directly to the hospital, and the application itself is password protected.

Looking forward, do you see other areas of medicine using apps that function similarly?

I think smartphones are here to stay, and the majority of the population worldwide now has access to smartphones with internet capabilities. In the future, patients will have more access to their own records, and there will be a lot more preventative issues. For example, not only would we help manage pain, but we could monitor blood pressure in patients with hypertension or blood sugar in diabetes patients. And the ease of communicating from doctor to patient using smartphones is also great.

Brendan Pease

Brendan Pease

    Brendan Pease was MedTech Boston's first ever editorial and events intern. He is now a junior at Harvard University where he studies Molecular and Cellular Biology. He’s also the Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Science Review. Previously, he worked as a Market Intelligence intern at athenahealth and as a research assistant in the Goldberg Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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