New Publication: Improved pain management through digital app and augmented physician interaction

Severe postoperative pain not only is a considerable burden for patients but also leads to overprescription of opioids, resulting in considerable health concerns. The remarkable development of new technologies in the health care system provides novel treatment opportunities in this area and could exploit the additional placebo effect, provide added value for patients, and at the same time support hospital staff. We aimed to test the pain- and opioid intake-reducing effects of enhanced postoperative pain management by boosting pain medication by using a technical application and/or augmented physician rounds.

In a four-arm, randomized clinical trial, 96 patients (24 patients per group) scheduled for a total knee replacement (TKR) were randomized into four groups for four postoperative days: an “application” group (APP) with information via an iPad-based application; a “doctor” group (DOC) with augmented physician rounds; a combination group (APP+DOC), which received both interventions; and a “treatment as usual” group (TAU) as a baseline with no additional intervention besides the standard care which consists of standardized medication, regular physician rounds, and physiotherapy. Postoperative pain and opioid requirements pre- and postoperatively until hospital discharge were recorded.

The difference between post- and preoperative pain was significantly different between the groups (P=.02, partial η2=.10). APP+DOC experienced greater postoperative pain relief than DOC (mean: 2.3 vs. 0.7, 95% CI: 0.08–3.09; P=.04) and TAU (mean 2.3 vs. 0.1; 95% CI: 0.69–3.71; P=.005), respectively, the difference compared to APP (mean 2.3 vs. 1.7; 95% CI −1.98–1.76) was not significant. Opioid consumption differed significantly between groups (P=.01, partial η2=.12). APP+DOC (72.9 mg) and DOC (75.4 mg) consumed less oxycodone than APP (83.3 mg) and TAU (87.9 mg; 95% CI: 2.9–22.1; P=.003). APP+DOC consumed significantly less oxycodone than DOC (d=0.2–0.4). There were no significant group differences in NSAID and Morphine sulfate consumption. Patients in APP+DOC were more satisfied with their treatment than patients in TAU (P=.03, partial η2=.09).

The conclusion: The combination of an innovative digital app, which implements open drug administration and augmented physician rounds that support the doctor–patient relationship can significantly improve postoperative pain management.

The full publication in the journal BMC Medicine can be read online here or downloaded as a PDF here.