By Eric Wicklund | March 7, 2018
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is participating in a study to determine whether an mHealth kit containing wearables and a pair of virtual reality glasses can help people suffering from work-related injuries recover more quickly and without the use of opioids.
Researchers at the Los Angeles hospital are partnering with Samsung Electronics America, Bayer, appliedVR and The Travelers Companies for the 16-mointh study, which will put the “digital pain-reduction kit” in the hands of between 90 and 140 participants.
“Workplace injuries that lead to chronic pain can cause ongoing issues, as an injured employee may mask pain with opioids or other drugs,” Dr. Melissa Burke, Travelers’ National Pharmacy Director, said in a press release. “Identifying new, non-pharmacologic alternatives for pain management can help an injured employee avoid chronic pain, lower the chances that they will develop a dangerous opioid addiction and reduce medical costs.”
Led by Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, Director of Health Services Research for Cedars-Sinai and a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA, Cedars-Sinai has been one of the leaders in studying the application of virtual reality tools and other mHealth devices in healthcare, focusing particularly on digital therapeutics.
“The opioid crisis doesn’t just cost money, it also costs lives,” Spiegel, who will lead this latest project, said in the release. “We need to find ways to stem the tide without relying entirely on medicines. Health technology, like virtual reality, has tremendous potential to improve outcomes while saving costs, which is why we’re so excited about this collaboration among academia and industry.”
Health systems across the country are studying how digital health technology can be applied to pain management, with the goal of replacing costly and addictive medications with technology that improves treatment outcomes and even lifestyles.
“The widespread use of wearables, sensors and digital health tools gives us an opportunity to quantify the real lives of patients who suffer from chronic pain – now a critically important public health condition in the US,” says Deborah Kilpatrick, PhD, CEO of Evidation Health, a California-based digital analytics company that’s now partnering with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston on an mHealth-based pain management study. “We are running this large-scale pain study to gain powerful insights on how behavioral factors are associated with health outcomes of chronic pain patients.”
“Novel research methodologies will enable the quantification of real-life outcomes in chronic pain across thousands of patients,” adds Christine Sang, MD, MPH, director of Translational Pain Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a consultant to the study. “If successful, the real-life insights on individual patient-level experiences can inform our efforts to bring relief to the striking number of people with diverse experiences of chronic pain.”
The digital pain-reduction kit features a Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus, headset; Samsung GearFit2 wearable; therapeutic pain management content, powered by biosensors provided by appliedVR; and an Aleve®Direct Therapy TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) Device for those with lower back pain from sore and aching muscles due to strain from exercise and normal household and work activities, provided by Bayer.
Using those devices participants recovering from workplace injuries will chart the daily functions and abilities and work productivity, as well as their use of pain medication.
“Recent research we’ve led with appliedVR and Cedars-Sinai have demonstrated that virtual reality reduces pain in hospitalized patients and provides a non-pharmacologic alternative to opiates,” Dr. David Rhew, Chief Medical Officer and Head of Health Care and Fitness for Samsung Electronics America, said in the Cedars-Sinai press release. “This project is exciting and groundbreaking in that it will be the first to evaluate the economic benefits of virtual reality in the setting of workers compensation.”
Insurance companies, self-employed businesses and state workers compensation officials are starting to see the value of telemedicine in improving recovery times and outcomes for injured workers, as well as improving access to those services.
Recently, the Texas Division of Workers Compensation posted a proposed rule that would lift originating site restrictions on the use of telemedicine for workers comp cases. The rule would enable healthcare providers to be reimbursed by Medicaid for those services, no matter where the injured worker is located.
“Most states, including Texas, are limited in what they are doing with telemedicine,” Texas DWC Commissioner Ryan Brannan announced in September 2017, when the proposed rule was unveiled. “We’re introducing this rule with the future growth of telemedicine in mind.”
The independent healthcare accrediting organization URAC reported last May that telehealth has “the potential to transform the workers’ compensation industry, providing injured employees with a convenient, personal and effective alternative to on-site medical care while reducing utilization of unnecessary services.”
“This is not your grandpa’s Facetime,” the organization noted. “Telehealth programs that are customized for occupational health can reduce utilization, lower costs, improve the accuracy of claim compensability determinations and boost the injured worker’s care experience.”