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“There’s a Pain App for That”

Review of Patient-targeted Smartphone Applications for Pain Management

Lalloo, Chitra BHSc, PhD*,†; Jibb, Lindsay A. BSc, MSc, BScN*,†; Rivera, Jordan BSc*; Agarwal, Arnav BHSc; Stinson, Jennifer N. RN, PhD, CPNP*,†,§,∥

The Clinical Journal of Pain: June 2015 - Volume 31 - Issue 6 - p 557–563
doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000171
Special Topics Series

Objectives: There are a growing number of pain self-management applications (apps) available for users to download on personal smartphones. The purpose of this study was to critically appraise the content and self-management functionality of currently available pain apps.

Methods: An electronic search was conducted between May and June 2014 of the official stores for the 4 major operating systems. Two authors independently identified patient-focused apps with a stated goal of pain management. Discrepancies regarding selection were resolved through discussion with a third party. Metadata from all included apps were abstracted into a standard form. The content and functionality of each app as it pertained to pain self-management was rated.

Results: A total of 279 apps met the inclusion criteria. Pain self-care skill support was the most common self-management function (77.4%). Apps also purported providing patients with the ability to engage in pain education (45.9%), self-monitoring (19%), social support (3.6%), and goal-setting (0.72%). No apps were comprehensive in terms of pain self-management, with the majority of apps including only a single self-management function (58.5%). In addition, only 8.2% of apps included a health care professional in their development, not a single app provided a theoretical rationale, and only 1 app underwent scientific evaluation.

Discussion: Currently available pain self-management apps for patients are simplistic, lack the involvement of health care professionals in their development, and have not been rigorously tested for effectiveness on pain-related health outcomes. There is a need to develop and test theoretically and evidence-based apps to better support patients with accessible pain care self-management.

*The Hospital for Sick Children, Child Health Evaluative Sciences

Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto

Departments of §Anaesthesia

Pediatrics, University of Toronto, Toronto

Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Chitra Lalloo, BHSc, PhD, The Hospital for Sick Children, Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, 686 Bay Street, Toronto, ON, M5G 0A4 (e-mail:

Received February 13, 2014

Received in revised form November 17, 2014

Accepted October 6, 2014

Copyright © 2015 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.