BBH, IST students create app to manage pain, place second in mHealth 2015

Students in the Department of Biobehavioral Health (BBH) took managing chronic pain into their own hands as part of the mHealth Challenge, an annual event that brings together students across different disciplines to develop prototypes for mobile health applications.

Lana Kandalaft, a sophomore, and Olivia Rothseid, a junior, both majoring in Biobehavioral Health, helped create a prototype mobile health app, C-Pain Go, which won second place in the 2015 mHealth Challenge. Other team members included Ted Yang and David Adler, students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

Putting the patient first

The C-Pain Go app was designed to focus on patients who suffer from chronic pain by setting multiple reminders throughout the day to ask the patient how he/she was feeling in order to record symptoms and track their pain on a daily basis.

“Some people have chronic pain from an injury or disease, and once they are cured, their pain goes away,” Kandalaft and Rothseid said. “This app was directed toward patients suffering from non-injury related chronic pain who have been instructed by their physicians to keep a journal of their pain in which to document days experiencing pain, the severity of pain, and time duration of their pain.”

After the patient records his or her symptoms, C-Pain Go takes those recordings and inputs them into a calendar to track the pain over time.

“The idea for the app came from an interest in the relationship between healthcare and the technological world,” Kandalaft and Rothseid said. “Each patient’s pain is unique, which is why tracking the pain is so vital in order for physicians to know what’s going on in the patients’ bodies when they aren’t at a scheduled appointment. C-Pain Go allows patients to be given the best healthcare possible.”

Since chronic pain is so incorporated into patients’ lives, oftentimes patients forget to track their pain due to its constant presence, Kandalaft and Rothseid said. The tri-daily alarms remind the patients to continuously record their pain, which they can then show to their doctors for more effective treatment.

The app also includes a communication function for the patients to maintain active communication with their physicians.

“Our experience with this challenge was extremely beneficial in many ways,” they said. “Since we were the healthcare experts and the IST students were the technology experts, we learned to listen to everyone’s ideas to create the best product possible. The competition aspect of the challenge was wonderful for teaching us how to effectively communicate our ideas in front of an educated audience and a panel of judges.”

mHealth - Working together to solve problems

In its third year, the Penn State mHealth Challenge aims to address health problems and needs across many populations. This year’s event was held in November at Penn State's University Park campus in conjunction with Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The challenge brought together undergraduate students from three academic colleges to collaborate to develop low-fidelity prototypes for mobile health applications.

Students from the College of Nursing and BBH in the College of Health and Human Development were teamed with students in IST. Each team was tasked with identifying a social health need associated with a specific target audience and then developing an app to address that need. Over two evenings, the teams pitched their proposals to a panel of judges chosen for expertise in health care and business.

BBH and Nursing students identified a societal health issue, a target population, and a behavior to be modified. IST students acted as consultants to create prototypes of potential solutions.

Teams worked together on their solution for approximately two weeks prior to their pitch. Topics included increasing physical activity, accessing community assets, managing chronic pain, managing diabetes, improving nutrition, and reducing health risks when changing military stations.

All teams presented to a panel of industry judges at the semi-finals. The top five teams advanced to the finals where judges selected a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Ten teams competed in the semi finals on Nov 17. Five teams advanced to the finals on Nov. 18.

Students participated from the following classes: JoAnn Foley-Defiore, in BBH; Beth Cutezo in the College of Nursing; and Megan Costello, in the College of IST.

Far-reaching results

Kathleen Grogan, a senior in Biobehavioral Health, participated in the challenge last year. This year she was invited back to act as an adviser to students in JoAnn Foley-DiFiore’s BBH 316 class, Foundations and Principles of Health Promotion.
“I was asked to speak to the participants and give my opinions on their projects,” she said.

Grogan’s project, Safe and Sound, which won second place in 2015 “was a mobile app in which users could “check in” via their devices upon arriving home, to let friends know they got to their destination safely. If a user didn’t check in and was expected to, a notification was sent out as well.

Grogan said one of the best parts of the challenge is working with students from different colleges.

“I found it really interesting what everyone brings to the table,” she said. “You can work with anyone if you share a common goal.”

Grogan said Nursing students brought a whole new perspective to the challenge since many of them have experience in the health care field, and many of the projects focus on health needs.

“It’s important to work with students from other colleges,” she said. “It broadens your horizons.”

Winning first place in the 2015 challenge was Invinsulin Kids, which aims to teach children basic self-care. Each participant creates a customized avatar that becomes a character in stories based on real-life scenarios, which teach kids how to monitor blood sugar and use insulin pens and pumps. The characters also appear in games called Treasure Hunt and Sugar Rush, which keep kids engaged while teaching them important concepts and techniques.

GlutenXposed, which came in third, was another educational app designed for kids. Its goal is to help those newly diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine.

“It’s so fun to see their energy around this project,” said Meg Small, assistant director at the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. “You can tell the students like to be hands-on. These projects could potentially have real use outside of the classroom.”

Semi-final judges included Jill Garrigon, fitness coordinator at Penn State; Peg Spear, healthcare consultant at Keeling and Associates, a consulting firm that helps colleges and universities improve student learning; and Scott Woods, president and founder of West Arete, a software development company.

Judges for the finals included Steve Arnold, founding partner emeritus of Polaris Partners, a company that connects technology and health care; Steve Barsh, chief innovation officer and managing director of DreamIt Health at DreamIt Ventures, a network supporting entrepreneurs; and Teresa Dolan, vice president of clinical operations and medical director of Accolade, an innovative consumer services company aiding people with health care.

For more information visit mhealth.ist.psu.edu.

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated December 09, 2015