Chronic pain is another area that’s a source of significant morbidity for patients, leading to a high amount of use for healthcare resources. Its treatment often involves a variety of procedures and can lead to long-term narcotic addiction. Interesting areas that are being explored for the management of chronic pain include immersive experiences with virtual reality (VR). AI could help here, too.
One example of that is neurostimulation, a powerful tool that’s already being used to treat chronic pain, anxious depression, overactive bladder and more by sending electrical pulses to areas of the brain linked to each condition. Despite the technology’s proven success, it only works if the correct areas of the brain are stimulated, which is often easier said than done. To provide a map showing the way forward, the Mayo Clinic and Google Research’s Brain Team are developing a new type of artificial intelligence algorithm to chart out the neural connections spanning each region of the brain.
Using a technique dubbed “basis profile curve identification”, the algorithm goes deeper than traditional methods to see the interactions between different parts of the brain. Their findings show that this new type of algorithm may help us to understand which brain regions directly interact with one another, which in turn may help guide the placement of electrodes for stimulation devices to treat network brain diseases. As new technology emerges, this type of algorithm may help us to better treat patients with epilepsy, movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease and psychiatric illnesses like obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
One of the main causes of chronic pain is musculoskeletal issues, such as back pain, joint pain and injuries from long-term repetitive movements as part of one’s job or in athletic activities. As well as managing the pain from these conditions, we also need to manage the underlying issues. That typically involves physical therapy, injections and surgery. In most cases, the management of these conditions starts with physical or occupational therapy, which is done in-person by the patient going to a facility and working with a therapist. AI has shown some promise at being able to facilitate this remotely. Using computer vision to analyze movements and then providing feedback based on any identified problems, AI can enable remote physical therapy with the assistance of an AI-based therapist.
Kaia health, a German startup, has developed an AI-enabled digital therapist that is, by many measures, as good as a human. One trial, which involved 552 exercises by osteoarthritis patients, found that human therapists agreed with the corrections suggested by Kaia’s app as often as they agreed with corrections suggested by other human therapists. In clinical trials, patients with back pain who used the app improved more than those who got in-person physiotherapy. Making people with injuries bend and twist carries some risks, but Kaia’s app is just as safe as working with a human expert. Less than 0.1% of nearly 140,000 app users reported adverse events.
Hinge Health delivers a digital care program to manage chronic back and joint pain. The company focuses on employee recovery programs for large enterprises and has over 100 corporate customers. Its platform uses sensors to collect real-time insights about a patient’s progress and, based on those insights, it can build a recovery program including exercise therapy, health coaching and education. It acquired computer vision technology provider Wrench to further develop its AI-enabled offering for remote physical therapy.