Mobile health (mHealth) is a rapidly emerging field with the potential to assist older adults in the management of chronic pain (CP) through enhanced communication with providers, monitoring treatment-related side effects and pain levels, and increased access to pain care resources. Little is currently known, however, about older adults’ attitudes and perceptions of mHealth or perceived barriers and facilitators to using mHealth tools to improve pain management.
We conducted six focus groups comprised of 41 diverse older adults (≥60 years of age) with CP. Participants were recruited from one primary care practice and two multiservice senior community day-visit centers located in New York City that serve older adults in their surrounding neighborhoods. Focus group discussions were recorded and transcribed, and transcriptions were analyzed using direct content analysis to identify and quantify themes.
Focus group discussions generated 38 individual themes pertaining to the use of mHealth to help manage pain and pain medications. Participants had low prior use of mHealth (5% of participants), but the vast majority (85%) were highly willing to try the devices. Participants reported that mHealth devices might help them reach their healthcare provider more expeditiously (27%), as well as help to monitor for falls and other adverse events in the home (15%). Barriers to device use included concerns about the cost (42%) and a lack of familiarity with the technology (32%). Facilitators to device use included training prior to device use (61%) and tailoring devices to the functional needs of older adults (34%).
This study suggests that older adults with CP are interested and willing to use mHealth to assist in the management of pain. Participants in our study reported important barriers that medical professionals, researchers, and mHealth developers should address to help facilitate the development and evaluation of age-appropriate, and function-appropriate, mHealth devices for older persons with CP.