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Last update: October 2019

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WellBrain: A Healthcare App That’s Tackling Addiction and Chronic Pain

In recent years, our understanding of what constitutes medicine and healthcare has evolved. While in the past we viewed different traditions of health and wellness as incompatible, we now understand that they are complementary and often intertwined. This was the inspiration behind one OpenBack client: WellBrain is a mobile app created by medical professionals that uses mindfulness and meditation exercises to revolutionize treatment for addiction and chronic pain.

The Inspiration Behind WellBrain

WellBrain was founded by Drs. Richard Shinaman, Ruben Kalra, and William Longton, who are all double board-certified in anesthesiology and pain management from Stanford, Harvard, and the Mayo Clinic. The inspiration came to them when they became aware of harmful practices in the field of prescriptions and pain management. The United States is currently in the midst of an opioid crisis. This is in a large part due to the aggressive marketing campaign by unethical pharmaceutical companies of highly addictive and potent synthetic opioids as “cure-all” painkillers.

The genesis of WellBrain, according to co-founder and chief medical officer Dr. Ruben Kalra, came about when he and his partners noticed patients coming in asking for opiates for all the wrong reasons. Patients requested opiate orescriptions for anxiety, addiction, depression, etc., and Kalra understood that this was indicative of a nation-wide trend. WellBrain’s co-founders started to explore the possible motivations for why patients would ask for painkillers to treat symptoms that are at their root psychological. 

One driving challenge they discovered was that many psychologists aren’t covered by patients’ healthcare plans, making psychological treatment of their reach. As many health plans cover opioids, perceiving them to be “easy fixes,” for many people, opioids are easier and cheaper to access than effective care. The co-founders of WellBrain, all of whom are medical professionals with double board certifications in anesthesiology and pain medicine, wanted to create a simple, at-home therapy that would provide patients sustainable, long-term pain relief. To do so, they  looked beyond the boundaries of traditional Western medicine for the driving concept of their mobile platform.

neuroscience pain management

Combining Meditation Techniques With Neuroscience

Joining up with a former Buddhist monk and teacher of mindfulness practices in the Theravada tradition, Kalra, Shinaman, and Longton began to explore the latest neuroscience studies on the effects of meditation on brain activity. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence showing that sustained meditation rewires the brain. With training and habitual meditation, chronic pain sufferers are able to decrease their own perception of pain intensity. 

With the goal of bringing this meditation training to the 1.5 billion people globally who live with chronic pain, they developed WellBrain, a “data-driven meditation station.” WellBrain is a multitiered meditation platform, prescribed by doctors. Patients take a psychology test and then receive personalized mindfulness meditations to habitualize over the course of eight weeks.

The platform is valuable to doctors as well, who receive real-time, trackable data from patients as they interact with the app via an iPad and optional EEG headset that measures brain waves. 

Termed by Dr. Kalra as a “psychologist in a box,” he has referenced being so busy he only gets 15 minutes with each patient. Chronic pain is multifaceted, and doctors often don’t have a vantage point for what patients are doing at home. With WellBrain, doctors can monitor patients’ health long-term and analyze data through psychological evaluation and progress reports. 

According to Mobi Health News:

“By collecting day-to-day data, [WellBrain’s] software provides managing physicians with a clearer look at digital habits that may correlate with depression or anxiety. Simultaneously, the platform uses these data to deliver reminders or behavioral suggestions to patients that serve as mental health interventions.”

WellBrain includes various features, allowing different patients to customize their experience of the platform according to what works for them. The app provides access to different types of mindfulness therapies designed for different medical conditions. It starts with basic, 10-minute exercises for beginners. As you continue, there different paths to choose from. There are also one-off sessions on various mental health topics, including stress relief, happiness, and appreciation. 

meditation mindfulness

Long-Term Goals for WellBrain’s Holistic Approach to Pain Treatment 

WellBrain has had considerable traction so far, both in terms of improved quality of life for individual patients as well as attention from the medical community. WellBrain’s co-founders have presented their platform at national conferences and, in 2018, at the United Nations. They have showcased ample statistics of how use of their platform results in sustained reduction of opiate use among patients. Plus, there are less quantifiable positive results: less stress, improved relationships, and better duration and quality of sleep. 

WellBrain has had proven results in treating psychological disorders with physiological repercussions, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD. 

WellBrain recently acquired the behavioral analytics platform Mevoked, which focuses on perinatal and postpartum mental health. Otherwise, they are hoping to continue to gather data and use it to optimize their product for clinicians and patients. Thus far, they’ve had stellar feedback, ranging from doctors to hospital systems to patients themselves. Feedback has stated that thanks to WellBrain, patients experience substantially better sleep, more happiness, and less pain. 

Ultimately, WellBrain hopes to move beyond pain and position itself as a bigger platform. It hopes to take on more healthcare systems in the near future. And with mental health still such a widely stigmatized area, WellBrain hopes to use their platform to shine a light on its priority in the healthcare industry. This should result in greater awareness as well as a larger benefit for patients. This is just one example of how organizations can use data, generated in the trillions daily by device users, for a positive end.

WellBrain and Push Notifications

Push notifications play a large role in offering patients personalized support and guidance in their wellness journey. Doctors are able to send patients push notifications reminding them to exercise. They can ping them with encouraging notes or mantras. Or with a sleep meditation if they find the patient is scrolling on their phone late into the night. 

With timed “wellness checks,” doctors can give patients nudges to stay on track with their meditation program. They can further ask after patients’ mental health if informed by certain data triggers that the patient is falling off the wellness wagon. As stated above, patient data is a driver of WellBrain’s effectiveness as a platform. And, as the company is based in California, they will likely soon be under the jurisdiction of CCPA data regulations, in addition to HIPAA, to ensure that all patient data is secure. (Fortunately, OpenBack’s mobile engagement platform keeps patient data securely on their devices. OpenBack is also compliant with all existing data privacy regulations by default.)

Paired with a truly comprehensive push notification platform, WellBrain combines digital technology with Eastern concepts of mental wellness. The result is a personalized, immersive mindfulness tool that trains patients to include meditation seamlessly into their lives. Ultimately, this makes for a low-cost, sustainable way to drastically improve patients’ lives and set them on the road towards naturally reduced pain. 

WellBrain GO for smartphones is now available for download in the App Store and Google Play.

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