Leveraging mobile health technology and research methodology to optimize patient education and self-management support for advanced cancer pain

Support Care Cancer. 2021 Oct;29(10):5741-5751. doi: 10.1007/s00520-021-06146-4. Epub 2021 Mar 18.


Purpose: Patient education is critical for management of advanced cancer pain, yet the benefits of psychoeducational interventions have been modest. We used mobile health (mHealth) technology to better meet patients' needs.

Methods: Using the Agile and mHealth Development and Evaluation Frameworks, a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, researchers, patients, and design specialists followed a four-phase iterative process to develop comprehensive, tailored, multimedia cancer pain education for a patient-facing smartphone application. The target population reviewed the content and provided feedback.

Results: The resulting application provides comprehensive cancer pain education spanning pharmacologic and behavioral aspects of self-management. Custom graphics, animated videos, quizzes, and audio-recorded relaxations complemented written content. Computable algorithms based upon daily symptom surveys were used to deliver brief, tailored motivational messages that linked to more comprehensive teaching. Patients found the combination of pharmacologic and behavioral support to be engaging and helpful.

Conclusion: Digital technology can be used to provide cancer pain education that is engaging and tailored to individual needs. A replicable interdisciplinary and patient-centered approach to intervention development was advantageous. mHealth interventions may be a scalable approach to improve cancer pain. Frameworks that merge software and research methodology can be useful in developing interventions.

Keywords: Cancer; Education; Graphic design; Opioid; Pain; Symptom management; Technology; mHealth.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Technology
  • Cancer Pain* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Neoplasms* / complications
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Research Design
  • Self-Management*
  • Telemedicine*