This weekend, Scott Zhang and I participated in Hack Mental Health to build Itsy, an application for patients with chronic pain. The app uses a therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain (CBT-CP) in an automated chatbot-style format to teach patients evidence-based strategies, techniques, and coping mechanisms for managing chronic pain. The app also includes a module to aid patients with helpful suggestions when they need it most: during the moments when their pain is flaring up. By tracking the data around pain flare-ups and marrying it to other data sources — e.g., from smartphones and wearable devices — we believe that we will be able to make predictive insights that can help patients better understand their pain triggers, their pain relievers, and the best tactics to avoid flare-ups in the first place.
We built this application because chronic pain is a huge issue in our country: it affects 25 million Americans daily and costs our economy ~$600B in lost productivity and increased health care costs. Unfortunately, our healthcare system’s over-reliance on opioids for the last two decades has contributed to the devastating crisis that now wreaks havoc on communities nationwide. It’s never been as urgent as it is now to find new and better approaches to managing chronic pain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends CBT-CP as a first-line therapy for chronic pain: an intervention to be tried before turning to potentially risky drugs or surgeries. However, due to shortages of mental health professionals and other similar care providers, the current practice of chronic pain management rarely uses CBT-CP or similar low-risk and high-evidence interventions as the first-line therapies they ought to be.
We plan to continue this work at SamaCare, where we are building software solutions to address this enormous gap. We aim to create interventions for chronic pain that are safe, scalable, and effective. If you’re interested in this goal, we’d love to talk!