An iPad application (app) developed to screen for conditions that may contribute to low back pain and pain interference and deliver adapted educational materials to older adults with chronic low back pain during a clinical visit has received high utility and usability ratings, according to a study published in Pain Medicine.

A total of 46 patients ≥60 years (mean age, 75.5 years; n=26 and 20 recruited from the Veterans Affairs and the community, respectively) with chronic low back pain were included in the study. Participants tested the software in alpha phase to provide feedback on design (n=15), and in beta phase (n=30) to qualitatively (ie, conditions thought to contribute to low back pain; by disease category) and quantitatively assess the app’s utility and usability using a questionnaire.

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Of the 30 participants in the beta testing group, 29 reported not finding the app confusing to use, 25 reported not making errors, 29 reported that the app was easy to use, and 28 reported being able to quickly complete the questionnaire. In addition, 82.1% of participants found the app helpful in improving communication with their physician, as well as helping to avoid unnecessary or harmful interventions like imaging (75.0%) and being prescribed opioids (79.2%). The mean usefulness rating for the app was 8.9 out of 10, 90% of participants found the app engaging, and 24 patients reported that the app helped them understand the nature of conditions that contributed to their chronic low back pain.

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Study limitations include the potential inflation of usability scores due to participant familiarity with the concept, a low percentage of women in the cohort, the possible influence of the testing environment on user behavior, and the fact that novelty may be associated with positive feedback.

Given the prevalence of unnecessary interventions in [chronic low back pain] and the need for more patient education, we believe that this app could be particularly effective at identifying important contributors to pain and disability, framing patient expectations, and reducing health care costs,” concluded the study authors.


Madill ES, Samuels R, Newman DP, Boudreaux-Kelley M, Weiner DK. Development of an evaluative, educational, and communication-facilitating app for older adults with chronic low back pain: patient perceptions of usability and utility [published online May 7, 2019]. Pain Med. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnz088

This article originally appeared on Clinical Pain Advisor