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Measuring chronic pain in everyday life

Today, Evidation announced the DiSCover Project (Digital Signals in Chronic Pain) — a study we are running to understand the relationship between behavior, biology and health in people with and without chronic pain. We chose to focus on chronic pain because of its prevalence, national importance, and perhaps most importantly, the fact that it still lacks treatments and solutions that work for many patients.

An estimated 100 million Americans experience chronic pain conditions. Current treatments  fail to fully address the range of symptoms felt by people with chronic pain. Management of pain has become a critical part of our national conversation recently as public and private sector players seek to address the opioid epidemic.

In addition, chronic pain is one of many conditions that can be immensely frustrating to live with because it’s challenging for patients and health care practitioners alike to measure and address. The path to even getting diagnosed with chronic pain is hard. Since pain presents itself in a variety of ways and is difficult to measure, a newly recurring issue that is rooted in chronic pain can lead to a long and grueling diagnosis process. Once diagnosed, every individual’s experience with pain is unique– some experience pain flares at different times of day, others experience flares with the weather, and others spend decades unclear on what is triggering their pain. The chronic pain experience isn’t actually one experience at all. In fact, each patient is affected in profoundly different ways with their own pain experience.

It’s challenging for people living with chronic pain to share what they are experiencing in a way that’s meaningful, quantifiable and addressable.

It’s challenging for people living with chronic pain to share what they are experiencing in a way that’s meaningful, quantifiable and addressable. Existing pain trackers and diary approaches only track self-reported outcomes when it is convenient for patients to complete them, potentially missing behavioral or contextual factors that may be contributing to or showcasing the individual’s pain. The format is also not an easy one for a physician to review and formulate a treatment plan based on those specific experiences.

When we came up with the idea for the DiSCover Project, we wanted to transform the field’s understanding of the real lives of individuals affected by chronic pain. We started by going to the experts: people experiencing chronic pain. Over 60 people with chronic pain provided input on their symptoms and other insights they felt were important for us to consider to measure the whole  chronic pain experience. We also partnered with a leading pain researcher to transform those patient insights into the study protocol.

The result is a study that will follow 10,000 people with and without chronic pain over the course of a year. Participants will be asked to contribute monthly surveys on their health, medical history and current experience with pain, as well as data from activity trackers and health and fitness apps. Based on those contributions, participants may be asked to also add another wearable or sensor, use a new smartphone app, contribute a saliva or blood lab sample, record a phone conversation, or take an at-home genetic test. Study recruitment is underway with thousands already enrolled through Achievement– our consumer rewards platform for health-related actions.

In quantifying the chronic pain experience, we hope to find digital signals that mark severity, flare-ups, and quality of life indicators of the condition. By accounting for what’s inside a person as well as what they do and their surroundings, we get a fuller picture of the person and can quantify chronic pain biomarkers that could lead to better outcomes and care for these patients.

We are excited about what is possible on this new frontier of medical research in the chronic pain arena.  We look forward to sharing more in the coming months as the DiSCover Project gets underway. Stay tuned!

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