Shown here is a patient who is using a mobile app to assess her back pain. (Image courtesy of University of Warwick)

Shown here is a patient who is using a mobile app to assess her back pain. (Image courtesy of University of Warwick)

Patients can assess their back pain via a mobile app on their tablet or phone just as effectively as they could via current paper methods, according to a study from the University of Warwick.

The study, published in Journal of Medical Internet Research, could lend weight to the argument for using mobile apps for routine measurement and clinical trials. These digital versions of existing assessments would be cheaper, greener, and improve patient experience, according to the researchers.

The researchers see this study as a necessary first step in the greater use of digital media in clinical settings, in light of recent calls for greater use of such technology by healthcare providers, notes a media release from the University of Warwick.

For health issues that can’t be readily measured, such as pain and depression, clinicians will often use self-assessment to monitor change. In most cases, this will take the form of a paper-based assessment. These go through very thorough validation exercises to ensure that they measure what they intend to robustly and accurately.

The researchers created mobile app versions of the most commonly used measures in back pain trials: the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ), visual analogue scale (VAS) of pain intensity, and numerical rating scale (NRS). These were developed with support from the University of Warwick Higher Education Innovation Fund with the aim of being used in clinical trials and for routine clinical measurements.

“We have taken existing outcome measures and shown that they can be migrated to digital media and used in that format just as effectively as their paper-based versions. Our intention is to develop technology that allows people to securely complete these kinds of assessments on their own phones and tablets in a way that is safe, secure and accurate,” says lead author Dr Robert Froud from the University of Warwick Clinical Trials Unit, in the release.

“If you can accurately monitor in clinical practice what’s happening to patients’ health, then analytically there is a lot that could be done with the data that will benefit patients,” he adds. “The implications are quite big because we can aim to scale up. It opens up potential for the development of new instruments and dynamic instruments that adapt to the answers that a user gives. The potential of using digital technology in healthcare settings is quite extraordinary but you can’t do any of that without first having assessments that work robustly and well.”

Reliability and responsiveness were used as factors to determine whether their apps were measuring in the way that they should be. Reliability refers to the result of the measure not changing when nothing has changed, while responsiveness refers to a change in the result when a measurable factor has changed.

In the study, researchers divided participants into groups depending on whether they had recorded a change in their pain. People who had received treatment for their condition and improved tested the responsiveness of the apps. Those with chronic pain, and less likely to improve, tested the apps for reliability, the release explains.

[Source(s): University of Warwick, EurekAlert]