Commercially Available Smartphone Apps to Support Postoperative Pain Self-Management: Scoping Review

Lalloo C, Shah U, Birnie KA, Davies-Chalmers C, Rivera J, Stinson J, Campbell F. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2017;5(10):e162.



Recently, the use of smartphones to deliver health-related content has experienced rapid growth, with more than 165,000 mobile health (mHealth) apps currently available in the digital marketplace. With 3 out of 4 Canadians currently owning a smartphone, mHealth apps offer opportunities to deliver accessible health-related knowledge and support. Many individuals experience pain after surgery, which can negatively impact their health-related quality of life, including sleep, emotional, and social functioning. Smartphone apps that provide remote real-time monitoring and symptom management have the potential to improve self-management skills in patients experiencing postoperative pain. Increased confidence and practice of self-management skills could contribute to decreased postoperative pain and reduce risk of developing persistent pain. Published reviews of general pain self-management apps demonstrate a lack of evidence-based content, theoretical grounding, and health care professional involvement. However, no review to date has focused on the app marketplace specific for individuals with postoperative pain.


The aim of this study was to characterize and critically appraise the content and functionality of commercially available postoperative pain self-management apps.


An electronic search and extraction was conducted between December 2016 and March 2017 of the official Canadian app stores for the three major smartphone operating systems (iPhone operating system [iOS], Android, and Windows). Stores were searched separately using predetermined search terms. Two authors screened apps based on information provided in the public app description. Metadata from all included apps were abstracted into a standard spreadsheet. Two authors verified the data with reference to the apps and downloaded apps themselves. The content and functionality of each app as it pertained to postoperative pain self-management was rated.


A total of 10 apps met the inclusion criteria. All included apps were designed exclusively for the Android platform. Education was the most common self-management feature offered (8/10, 80%), with none of the apps offering features related to goal setting or social support. Overall, no single app was comprehensive in terms of pain self-management content. Five (50%) apps reported the involvement of a health care provider in their development. However, not a single app involved end users in their development, and none of the apps underwent scientific evaluation. Additionally, none of the apps were designed for use in pediatric patients.


Currently available postoperative pain apps for patients lack evidence-based content, goal setting, and social support functions. There is a need to develop and test comprehensive theory-based apps to support patients with pain self-management care following surgery.

Read the full open-access study in JMIR Publications