Over the past several years, University of Michigan-based startup Moxytech has been developing an app that lets medical patients explain their pain to a doctor by drawing it on a 3-D model. Founded in 2014, the company allows users of the app GeoPain to highlight which areas hurt and indicate how much pain they are in to professionals.
Moxytech Co-Founder Alexandre DaSilva, director of the University’s Headache and Orofacial Pain Effort, said the app — which was released to the public in September — is an invaluable resource and part of a logical progression in evaluating patients.
“I’m a clinician, and when I was doing my doctorate I was looking at the brain of patients with pain, and with the technology they have, they were much more precise,” DaSilva said. “But in the clinic, it was always subjective. Even though I could look at very high-tech things in the research side, in the clinical side, to correlate things, it was much harder, because I had to ask my patients, ‘zero to ten, what’s your pain,’ which was very subjective.”
DaSilva also believes the app is useful for patients because makes it easier for them to accurately describe their symptoms.
“I started to create a grid so the patient could put not only the intensity of the pain but where the pain was,” DaSilva said. “So that started to really help me with my research. When I arrived here in Michigan, then I realized that the 2-D map, the drawing, was not really good for the patients, because a body is in 3-D. The patients in the studies, and even those in the clinics, they were excited about this. ‘Hey, I want to use that, for my own good, and show it to my doctor,’ (they said).”
Moxytech’s other co-founder Eric Maslowski discussed how important it is to ue technology in the medical fields in order to optimize medical procedures.
“When I was at Michigan, I’d always been captivated by the meaningful uses of technology,” Maslowski said. “Not just technology for technology’s sake, but to actually use it as a positive agent on larger groups of people.”
The app is now used in various medical offices across the state of Michigan, including those of Dr. Thiago Nascimento, a pain research investigator in the University Research Lab. At the time the app was first being developed, Nascimento was a student of DaSilva’s, allowing him plenty of hands-on experience with the app. Nascimento explained how the app played a valuable role in patient evaluation.
“The drawing of the pain (was useful). Every time somebody had pain, you ask them ‘one to ten,’” Nascimento said. “However, that doesn’t really paint the picture of how they’re feeling, it’s not very precise, not very accurate. We were studying the technique of giving the patient a 2-D or 3-D space, so they can visualize it, something better than a number. It’s easy for us to kind of to see what the patient is feeling, although it’s just a drawing … For me, a more visual guy, it was useful. ‘Okay, you have pain in your head,’ is okay, but to have the patient draw for you how it spreads and the progression of the pain (was helpful).”Nascimento said the app helped bridge the gap between the rudimentary medical knowledge of most patients and the expertise of the doctors.
“You kind of find common ground,” Nascimento said. “You can remove that gap. The doctor-to-patient relationship, it makes it easier for them (the doctor) to explain what’s going on. We’d start with the app: ‘Okay, just tell me how you’re feeling and let’s try to see the picture and compare.’ Like, let’s look and see how you were feeling a few months ago, and how you’re feeling today … It was easier for us to even track the follow-up – Are you feeling better or not – instead of just choosing a random number, like, ‘Before it was a 7, now it’s a 6.’ You can really see, ‘Oh, you’re getting better.’ It was clear for us to see.”
According to Nascimento, the app had helped him learn as a student as he studied under DaSilva.
“Back in the day, with their first versions, just to be optimized, it was good for them to also use our feedback, not only the feedback from the patients, but ours (the students),” Nascimento said. “You have the theory in the classroom, and you try to apply the concepts. For us, it was like, ‘Okay, we learned that, but we don’t see it used in the app.’ So it was good for us to give them some feedback as well.”