Conversational Agents for Chronic Pain Management

Chronic pain is a serious public health issue affecting approximately 30-40% of the US adult population. The widespread use of opioid pain medication has contributed to a national epidemic of addiction in the US; more than 165,000 deaths occurred between 1999 and 2014 due to opioid overdose. As such, there is an urgent need to develop and deploy non-addictive chronic pain management methods.

Toward this, recent studies have identified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to be a promising alternative for long-term pain management. The efficacy of MBSR depends on regular practice and thus, longitudinal adherence is essential for effective pain management. However, ensuring adherence and engagement to MBSR is a serious challenge and remains as a key barrier in translating it from clinical settings to real-world practice.

In this proposal, we aim to address this compliance and adherence issue by using a conversational agent. Specifically, we propose to leverage the Amazon Alexa ecosystem to develop an interactive, personalized virtual coach for delivering MBSR. Based on prior research, we believe that such a virtual coach will engender trust and social rapport, resulting in sustained high engagement over a long period of time. Furthermore, our proposed approach is highly scalable and can improve access to MBSR practices, including for those in rural communities.

This project is a collaboration with Stephanie Lanza and Sebrina Doyle.