Unlikely Partners in Pain App Study

By Pat Anson, Editor

Purdue Pharma and a Pennsylvania-based healthcare provider have announced the enrollment of their first patient in a joint study of wearable health technology. As many as 240 people will eventually be enrolled in the two-year study, which is designed to see if “wearables” can help manage chronic pain.

It’s an unlikely partnership between Purdue Pharma, which faces multiple lawsuits over its promotion of the painkiller OxyContin, and the Geisinger Health System, which is actively trying to discourage the use of opioid pain medication. Geisinger provides healthcare to over 3 million people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Geisinger patients enrolled in the study will get an Apple Watch and iPhone equipped with pain apps that will measure their physical activity, self-reported pain, disability, sleep quality, depression, medication use and heart rate.

Patients who report pain will be prompted to try non-pharmaceutical alternative therapies, such as stretching, mindfulness and thermotherapy.

“The goal of this technology is to improve patient function and quality of life while reducing the need for analgesic medications. It provides objective measures of numerous aspects of pain, function and treatment effectiveness so that information can be gathered for the patient and the healthcare provider in between visits,” said Dr. Tracy Mayne, who heads Medical Affairs Strategic Research at Purdue Pharma.

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“We are pleased to partner with Geisinger on this important initiative and believe real-time data may have the potential to support an improved understanding of chronic pain patients’ experiences and needs.”

The study's primary goals are to assess whether the use of wearables can reduce pain, depression, medication use, and healthcare costs.

“We are incorporating advanced technology into the traditional healthcare setting to redirect and empower the patient to take more control of their own well-being. The proposed multi-level integrated platform will facilitate and accelerate the speed of communication between the patient and healthcare providers, thereby allowing quicker patient access to appropriate care,” said John Han, MD, director of Pain Medicine at Geisinger.

“Furthermore, it is hoped providing more education as well as alternative, non-opioid treatment options and coaching to promote a long-term sustainable healthy lifestyle will improve patient function and quality of life.”

Further details about the study can be found here.

The study comes as Purdue fights a seemingly endless series of court battles with state and local governments over its marketing of OxyContin over a decade ago. Critics contend the overprescribing and abuse of OxyContin helped launch the overdose crisis.

A recent study by Geisinger found that opioids are ineffective in treating chronic pain and increase the risk of overdose and death.

"Opioids are not the answer," said Mellar Davis, MD, a palliative care physician for Geisinger. "Chronic pain rehabilitation, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapies, acupuncture, yoga or tai chi are all better options than opioids."