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New App Aims To Help Patients Describe Their Pain Without The 1 To 10 Scale

Two of the Painimations. One is meant to represent a stabbing pain, and the other neuropathic pain.

Doctors often ask patients to rank their pain on a scale of one to 10, and responses inform prescriptions, diagnoses and help physicians monitor progress. But University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Charles Jonassaint says this isn't a very effective way for doctors and patients to communicate, because there are different types of pain and not everyone has the same tolerance for pain.

Jonassaint and his team are developing an app called Painimations, that allows patients to color where on their body they feel pain and has eight different animations they can choose to describe their pain.

One of the animations is meant to represent a stabbing sensation.

"So it just looks like a wedge, and you can actually change the amplitude or change the size of the wedge so it looks sharper or looks wider," Jonassaint said. 

Another animation looks like electric shocks across the screen, meant to represent pain related to nerve damage. Jonassaint said these animations should give physicians more insight into how their patients feel, event when there are communication barriers.

"It shows a potential that we can do things across cultures, across ages, across languages," Jonassaint said. "And really get at a better way of identifying what pain is like."

Jonassaint said a better understanding of pain could help limit unnecessary opioid prescriptions. Nationally, nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported they began their addiction with prescription opioids, and U.S. Attorney Scott Brady has said the Department of Justice will prosecute doctors who overprescribe. 

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.