Drawing application helps elderly, impaired patients to pinpoint pain

Researchers from Hannover Medical School in Germany have developed a tablet-based symptom drawing application to provide clinicians and patients with a way to assess pain. The team published its findings May 30 in JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

Drawings are a widely used tool in assessing patient pain, but many applications are not designed for easy access for elderly and impaired patients. In this study, researchers outlined the development of a tablet-based software app that collects patient drawings of pain and related symptoms. Both the usability perspectives of patients and providers were included.

“Such electronic drawings have many advantages over pen-on-paper drawings, the most important being the ability to analyze drawings right after their completion without the need for prior digitization,” wrote first author Till-Ansgar Neubert and colleagues. “Of particular interest are tablets with an electronic pen (stylus) as they have two main advantages: a much higher precision than drawing with the finger and high similarity with pen-on-paper drawing.”

The study enrolled 103 chronic pain patients and their providers, who were asked to evaluate the usability aspects of the app through questionnaires. Researchers noted the app was used by patients to identify pain on the body outline, evaluate symptom depth and simplify the drawing process. Additionally, providers were satisfied with its usability.

“We developed a tablet-based symptom drawing app and improved it based on usability assessment in a sample of chronic pain patients and their treating doctors,” concluded Neubert and colleagues. “Increases in usability of the improved app comprised identification with the body outline, symptom depth evaluation and difficulty of the drawing process. Test-retest reliability of symptom drawings by chronic pain patients showed fair to excellent reproducibility. Patients’ usability evaluation is an important factor that should not be neglected when designing apps for mobile or eHealth apps.”