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In April of 2013, Lise Morency woke up in excruciating pain.
"Every movement hurt, even lying down brought on pain," Lise says.
After meeting with her family doctor, Lise was told the pain was a result of a herniated cervical disc.
A cervical herniated disc is one of the more common spine conditions. Although it may originate from some sort of trauma or injury to the cervical spine, the symptoms often start spontaneously.
"I was a manager at Starbucks at the time and suddenly I wasn't able to lift anything, so it made working and just everyday activities impossible to do," she recalls.
Experiencing constant pain and severe lack of sleep that left her unable to work, Lise was prescribed a variety of opioids.
"I literally went from taking herbal medicines and practicing yoga to feeling as though people thought I was a depressed 40-something addicted to prescription medications," Lise recalls.
Lise's family doctor referred her to Dr. Andrea Furlan at Toronto Rehab, which Lise says, "was the luckiest thing that could have happened to me."
With the help of a new, first-of-its-kind app developed at Toronto Rehab, Lise says she now has the confidence to manage her pain with opioids.
My Opioid Manager
The My Opioid Manager (MyOM) app helps patients with chronic, non-cancer pain, such as osteoarthritis and low back pain, understand uses of opioids and the side effects and risks; track their pain and opioid use; and easily share information about their chronic pain with their health-care team.
"Patients need to know the risks, and better understand their dose, potential complications, and the interaction opioids have with other medications they may be taking," says Dr. Furlan, physician and scientist, Toronto Rehab, and co-creator of MyOM. "Patients are often very fearful of how their body will react to opioids or that they will become addicted. The app is designed to educate and hopefully dispel some of their fears."
The app builds on the Opioid Manager, an app which helps doctors decide whether to prescribe opioids and makes it easier to monitor their patients.
Partnering in care
MyOM is interactive, allowing patients to create pain diaries, use body maps to visualize and outline pain intensity, and measure changes in their pain through questionnaires. These tools can help empower patients to engage in decision-making with their health-care team.
"Chronic pain often makes patients feel like they don't have control over their body and how they're feeling," says Amy Robidas, registered nurse, Toronto Rehab, and co-developer of the app. "Having the ability to track opioid use themselves, gives patients the ability to be partners in their own care."
The app also makes it easy for patients to track and share information with their health-care team.
"There can be a lot of stigma around opioid use. This is a tool that can help patients develop trust with their physician and allow for more time to discuss questions and concerns and set functioning goals," says Robidas.
Lise says she had a hard time accepting needing opioids for pain and often felt judged.
"You hear stories from people about addiction to opioids and there's a lot of stigma," she says. "But this app allows me to easily track what I consume, so you're dealing with numbers and not the assumptions of others."
"Making daily notes of my pain levels, identifying them and their causes, and listing the pain medications I've taken as a result, gives me a clearer understanding of what leads to my discomforts and the importance of my part in it," she explains.
Lise adds the app and accompanying iBook have also provided guidance on trying different solutions for the pain, like stretches or exercise.
Dr. Furlan and her team are set to assess how patients use the app and whether it improves their experience with opioid prescription by keeping them informed.
"I am now so much more aware of the pain I feel, why I feel it, and what best will reduce it to a manageable degree," Lise says.
"I can honestly say that after almost two years of suffering with extreme pain, I am finally hopeful for my future."
MyOM is a free smartphone app available through the
iTunes Store and
Google Play for iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android devices. It also includes an accompanying free
iBook – an educational and informational resource to help patients understand and manage their pain with opioid use.