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The Future of Personalized Healthcare: There’s an App for That

Blog 156 - New App to Help Low Back PainThe future of personalized healthcare is going mobile. By 2020, patients experiencing back pain will be able to take responsibility of managing their pain into their own hands. An app currently being developed by medical, science, and technology researchers called selfBACK, will be able to facilitate and improve self-management of non-specific low back pain.

The international project, funded by the European Union, comes as a response to a study on global disease that found that low back pain is the fourth most common diagnosis in primary care, and the most significant contributor to disability in Europe.

European guidelines advise that the best approach for self-management of low back pain is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, and to stay active through stretching and exercise. The app will act as a support system to help reinforce these guidelines to keep patients upright, moving and ultimately, as pain-free as possible.

The first of its kind, selfBACK will be customized to each user, depending on their pain symptoms and characteristics. App users will receive a specialized physical activity-detecting wristband that will connect with the app using artificial intelligence and open source code to send viral data and recordings of pain levels, functioning abilities, physical activity and sleep. The app will then analyze the data, and create tailored recommendations and support for the user’s unique needs.

The developers of selfBACK anticipate that users will experience a 20% reduction in pain-related disability within 9 months of usage, compared to patients receiving traditional treatment alone, such as physical therapy, pain medication and steroid injections. Paul Jarle Mork, professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and selfBACK project coordinator, explains that they expect the app to significantly help lower back pain sufferers because of the app’s nature to hold each user accountable for their daily pain management plan, which is integral to seeing results.

“The presentation of self-management advice, and the way in which it’s followed-up and reinforced, significantly impacts whether a patient sticks to their plan. We can offer patients an evidence-based system with personalized advice and follow-up.”

There are nearly 300 pain-related apps available in the smartphone app shops; however, none of these options offers such a comprehensive and individualized support system. Stretch Away is a popular app that demonstrates how to identify low back and hip pain, and provides basic stretching exercises to reduce stress in the back and improve posture. BackDoctor is another application for patients seeking to prevent lower back through physical conditioning. This app features easy-to-do exercises that can be performed in gradual increments and without exercise equipment.

While these applications can serve as practical guides for helping alleviate chronic pain, none so far can provide the holistic, customized support that selfBACK will offer. The predictive case-based reasoning system behind selfBACK introduces a new category of self-management, and fills a need for a personal device system that addresses health issues with a documented effect. Researchers from Copenhagen, Odense, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Paris and the Netherlands are still early on in the development stages of the wristband and the app, and plan to conduct a randomized controlled trial of 300 patients with back problems once complete. After thorough testing trials of the advanced technology, the selfBACK team aims to release the app to the public by December 2020.

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