Digital pathway offers new hope for chronic pain

4 minute read

Looking into the “black box” of chronic pain is saving private health insurers millions.

An Aussie digital therapeutic for chronic pain is getting traction at home and opening big pockets in the US.

Kathy Hubble has bucked the system after working for 30 years in chronic pain management. She saw that accepted approaches to chronic pain management were generally not working and started asking questions.

“I started to really dive into the ‘black box’ of rehabilitation and shine a torch into what works [for chronic pain management] and what doesn’t work, and why doesn’t it work? What’s the evidence behind it?

“I figured out the why and that was to get them off the pain medications,” she said.

Ms Hubble started working for insurers where she handed over the entire pain management portfolio of a leading Australian insurer.

“They ended up releasing over a million dollars, in three months, by getting people back to work off staff claims,” she said.

Ms Hubble helped design and lead behavioural change programs through a multidisciplinary pain clinic that was “getting fantastic outcomes” through deprescribing and working with patients to manage the “boom to bust” cycle of chronic pain.

However, the program was not addressing needs for rural and regional patients.

“At one stage,we had a three-year waiting time for an initial consultation. That’s a long time for somebody to be waiting in pain,” she said.

So, Ms Hubble created Amelio Health, a digital health pathway for chronic pain patients that focuses on desensitising neural pathways and deprescribing.

The company partnered with Google so that each patient receives a Fitbit that automatically relays data to the Amelio Health dashboard. Key data includes oxygen saturation, activity, heart rate variability and sleep patterns. Patients also record their responses to psychosocial assessments through the digital therapeutic platform.

Then, machine learning kicks in to analyse the broad range of patient data and prompt 24/7 live health coaches to step in and provide support as needed.

“We’re getting people the knowledge they need to be empowered, and also gently nudging them in the right direction with specific, bespoke, therapeutic help according to their data,” Ms Hubble said.

Amelio Health kicked off at Sydney Start-up Hub. It then got a leg-up into the international marketplace when it was selected as one of seven companies globally to participate in the Global Insurance Accelerator.

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“Then, I pitched [Amelio Health] to the Global Insurance Symposium in April, to over 500 delegates, and had an absolutely overwhelming response. Two big insurance companies in the US came to us and just said ‘we want a pilot’, she said.

At this time, Ms Hubble can’t reveal which US insurers made the offer but the Australian list of insurers using Amelio Health includes GIO, EML and Noble Oak life insurer.

There have been no offers from the public health sector.

“That’s the next nut to crack. Medicare is notoriously pathetic for not helping out allied health and digital health. That’s something I want to discuss at the Wild Health Summit,” said Ms Hubble.

“I’d like to see this available to everybody,” she said.

Amelio Health is currently looking at introducing private patients who are not “under an insurer”. Ms Hubble said that the treatment is very affordable especially in comparison to the cost of pain specialists and medications that “goes on for years” and the “incredible burden” chronic pain is for patients and their families.

Chronic pain affects one in five people and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Mr Hubble said that two-thirds of back and joint surgeries are avoidable, and opiods are not effective for chronic pain. Limited evidence supports the use of spinal fusions although they are frequently offered.

Ms Hubble will be presenting a case study on digital health solution for chronic pain at the Wild Health Sydney Summit on 11 September.

Find out more and register to attend the ‘Australia vs the world’ digital health summit.

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