New app for sickle cell disease helps patients manage pain

Pinpoint is product of joint effort between HPC International, Klein Buendel

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by Mary Chapman |

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An illustration of a person grabbing his elbow in pain.

A new, interactive application touted as the first of its kind can help people with sickle cell disease (SCD) learn about and communicate with their care team about their pain attacks.

Called Pinpoint, the app is the product of a partnership between healthcare purchased services provider HPC International and Klein Buendel, a health communication research and technology company. The app, which is meant for patients of all ages with a focus on teens, uses gaming technology to identify the different types of pain associated with SCD, a blood disorder that disproportionately affects African Americans.

People with sickle cell tend to have vaso-occlusive crises, pain episodes that occur when sickle-shaped red blood cells become stuck inside blood vessels and block the flow of blood. Such episodes can last anywhere from hours to weeks and may be serious enough to require hospitalization. Some patients may have chronic pain, which clinicians often unsuccessfully address, due to long-term tissue damage.

“The pain caused by sickle cell disease is incredibly difficult to manage and ‘pinpoint,’ especially for young patients,” Hilton M. Hudson, MD, CEO of HPC International, said in a company press release. “When meeting with top researchers at Children’s Hospital in Washington D.C., we all agreed that clinicians needed a better way to treat the different types of pain sickle cell patients may experience, which led HPC to develop a tool to do just that.”

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Pinpointing SCD pain

In addition to a pain assessment function, the app, which requires an annual $9.99 subscription fee, offers a pain diary for logging physical and emotional pain symptoms. With the touch of a finger, patients are able to describe and gauge the attributes of their discomfort and report it to their physician and caregivers in real time.

The app works on any smart mobile device and lets patients watch videos, play games, and learn preventive health tips. By visiting its Patient Stories section, patients can read personal narratives and inspirational messages shared by other people with sickle cell.

Pinpoint’s educational content comes from the Hope & Destiny book series, written by hematology experts and tailored to patients of different age groups.

The app’s development was aided by two Small Business Innovative Research grants, one awarded in 2016 and the other in 2018 by the National Institutes of Health. It came about through a collaboration with medical experts, teens, parents of sickle cell patients, and Klein Buendel to investigate how an interactive app with a bespoke evaluation tool could help adolescents better understand and manage their condition.

Focus groups, market research, interviews, surveys, and two comprehensive nationwide research investigations from 2016 through last year with teenagers, parents, and clinical specialists were also part of Pinpoint’s development, which has been clinically assessed to help with SCD pain management.

The app is available to patients and to medical providers. A video tutorial is available to those wanting to learn more about it.

“Teaming up with HPC International and supported by grants from the NIH, Klein Buendel was privileged to create a supportive pain management tool for patients with sickle cell disease,” said Mary Buller, Klein Buendel’s president. “HPC and Klein Buendel combined content experts and web developers into a winning combination for patients and doctors.”