For children with cancer, pain poses a special challenge, as they experience and express it differently than do adults.
That’s what led UCI’s Michelle Fortier to design and evaluate an app aimed at easing kids’ cancer pain. Called Pain Buddy, it provides a real-time assessment of pain to help pediatric healthcare providers with a rapid and effective response.
“Pain in children doesn’t get the attention it needs,” says Fortier, an associate professor in the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing.
“We know that most, if not all, kids undergoing treatment for cancer experience recurrent pain. And because kids are mostly at home during treatment, it also means parents become responsible for managing their pain.”
Stress exacerbates pain in children, and they have trouble recalling pain episodes at periodic doctor visits, says Fortier, whose research is under the auspices of the UCI Center on Stress & Health.
“Kids are more reluctant to report their pain,” she says.
“They may worry that it means their cancer is worse or something is wrong or that it might make their parents scared or worried.”
With the child-friendly app, pain assessments are reported in real time to healthcare providers instead of waiting days or weeks between appointments.
Learning pain management skills
The app also teaches skills – such as mindfulness, breathing and distraction – to help kids manage pain.
A recent study on the effectiveness of Pain Buddy showed that after using the app for 8 weeks during cancer treatment, children endured significantly fewer episodes of moderate or severe pain than kids using traditional pain reporting methods.
A larger, multi-institutional study of Pain Buddy, funded by the National Cancer Institute, is now underway. Says Fortier: “Ideally, I’d like to see any child diagnosed with and treated for cancer get something like Pain Buddy as a standard part of treatment.”