For Tahir Janmohamed, watching his mother suffer from the daily pain of fibromyalgia called him to action.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition causing pain throughout the body, sometimes as an ache and sometimes as intense as a stabbing or burning pain. The consistent pain from fibromyalgia is so debilitating that it can cause depression and anxiety, among other problems.
Janmohamed couldn’t take away his mother’s pain, but he could help her track it — so he made an app.
“Seeing what she had to go through in terms of being able to explain what she’s feeling to her family and to her doctors, I thought that there would be a better way to do that if I could take advantage of smartphones,” he said.
Janmohamed created the beta version of the app Manage My Pain in 2011 and founded his company ManagingLife in 2014. He has been acting as CEO ever since. His goal was to make a pain diary that required less than 60 seconds a day to fill out. Now, the app is approaching 29,000 users and has hundreds of positive reviews praising its customizability and ease of use.
Manage My Pain allows those afflicted with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia to track their pain levels, response to medications, sleep patterns and more, in addition to generating reports of the results for themselves or their doctors.
About one in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain. But Janmohamed’s app reaches those outside the nation, and is currently available through the Google Play store and through online browsers. In the next few months, the long-awaited iOS app will be rolling out. Janmohamed said his company will be making some other big announcements soon, including their first partnerships outside of healthcare clinics.
“They’re probably the most significant milestones for our company because [they] demonstrate market validation, meaning there are organizations willing to pay for our product,” Janmohamed said.
Early on in their work, Janmohamed and his team were based out of the MaRS Discovery District, but after making clinical partnerships and building a user base, they decided to move to the Ryerson DMZ in May 2017. There, they worked on commercializing and licensing their platform to be sold to insurance companies and large clinics.
Now, though still affiliated with the DMZ, ManagingLife primarily works through the Biomedical Zone located in Ryerson’s Victoria building. Janmohamed was invited to join the zone after participating in its HealthBound Challenge, a need-based competition started last year. Their work in the Biomedical Zone is aimed at determining the app’s impact in a clinical setting, building on current work with the Toronto General Hospital.
Since 2015, the app has been integrated into Toronto General’s Transitional Pain Service (TPS). The TPS was created in 2014 to help patients at risk of chronic postsurgical pain manage their symptoms and avoid opioid dependency, though they also see patients with chronic pain or addiction issues. The TPS’s use of the app led to ManagingLife’s new funding opportunity announced in January — a 24-month partnership with four health centres funded by the Ontario government.
“One of the biggest challenges for a healthcare company is to find partners that are interested and, second of all, something that will offset their costs,” said Janmohamed. “This grant and this project has been a great opportunity to address both of those challenges.”
ManagingLife’s work with the TPS continues to help them understand what they need to improve functionality and value of the app. Patient data coordinator Kayla McMillan said the service has been collecting data that, once analyzed, will show how long patients remain with the clinic, how many opioids they have consumed and how severe their pain is over time.
Sarah Russell, who worked as the clinical coordinator of the TPS until January, said traditional written pain diaries aren’t as detailed or intuitive as the app, making them less helpful for patient care.
“People would be filling out the questionnaire on how they felt for the last couple of days, not from the time period in between their last appointment and the current one,” Russell said. “The app makes it significantly easier for them to remember their day to day because it’s registered in the app.”
Beyond making the experience easier for patients, Russell said it has also helped doctors provide more specialized care to their patients.
“The doctors can see everything that’s going on instead of having to rely on the patient to try and remember everything that happened, because sometimes you don’t see patients for three months,” she said. “It makes the appointment quicker and also more in-depth because the doctors already know what’s going on.”
Russell said that another important aspect is how it encourages patients.
“They set goals for themselves and they’re able to compare that with what they hadn’t been able to do,” Russell said. “It’s a great measure for them to be able to see the progress that they’ve been making.”
In addition to encouraging patients, Janmohamed said that for users like his mom, the app helps them better understand their own pain or disorder. Users can generate reports that include graphs showing changes over time, as well as how factors like stress and food intake have impacted their pain levels or other symptoms. Reports even detail where you are most often experiencing pain and what other symptoms are most commonly associated with pain.
“It’s allowed her to more understand certain patterns,” he said. “She doesn’t use it as much to communicate with her doctor, so it’s more of a self-management tool for her.”
Although the app started as a way to help his mom, Janmohamed said she continues to help him as much as he helps her by giving him feedback as his favourite beta user.
“Whenever we include a new feature, the first thing I do is go to [my mom],” he said.