Biometric Measures of Pain and Self Reporting of Side Effects

A few days ago, I blogged about the dificulty of self-reporting side effects.  The AP has just run a story on how it may be becoming possible to measure pain bio-metrically.

The National Institutes of Health is pushing for development of what its director, Dr. Francis Collins, has called a “pain-o-meter.” Spurred by the opioid crisis , the goal isn’t just to signal how much pain someone’s in. It’s also to determine what kind it is and what drug might be the most effective.

“We’re not creating a lie detector for pain,” stressed David Thomas of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, who oversees the research. “We do not want to lose the patient voice.”

Around the country, NIH-funded scientists have begun studies of brain scans, pupil reactions and other possible markers of pain in hopes of finally “seeing” the ouch so they can better treat it. It’s early-stage research, and it’s not clear how soon any of the attempts might pan out.

“There won’t be a single signature of pain,” Thomas predicted. “My vision is that someday we’ll pull these different metrics together for something of a fingerprint of pain.”

Obviously, there is still huge amounts to be leaned not only about the measures, but critically their relationship to how we as patients actually experience them.  I was very encouraged to see the quote from David Thomas “We’re not creating a lie detector for pain.  We do not want to lose the patient voice.

Obviously, this will require full involvement from patients in the research design, as well as making sure that those who are trained to use the new measures are fully informed of the relationship of patient experience to the numbers.  Its not hard getting researchers to understand, but less clear that harried caregivers will not be attracted to shortcuts.  In fact, quite apart from research into the reliability of the numbers, we will need research into what happens in the field –“first do no harm.”  I see this new ata ass potentially strengthening the patient partnerhsip, not weakening.

As some who has sat as a patient voice on numerous health care working groups, I have complete trust in the intent of the professional participants, but I have also seen how powerful that unified professional voice can be, unless we understand the full dynamics.

I hope that my caution does not undercut what I see as very good news here.

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