Patients' experiences of digital health interventions for the self-management of chronic pain: a systematic review and thematic synthesis

Ashleigh Main*, Haruno McCartney, Maryam Ibrar, Harleen Kaur Rai, Fiona Muirhead, Alexandra Mavroeidi, Roma Maguire

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Chronic pain is a highly prevalent condition that requires multidisciplinary treatment. However, in the United Kingdom, access to specialist pain clinics where patients can receive medical multidisciplinary treatment is limited, and provision varies between health boards. As such, self-management of chronic pain using digital tools has been gaining traction recently, but evidence of its effectiveness from clinical-based trials focuses mainly on quantitative outcomes.

This systematic review aims to identify, appraise, and synthesize qualitative evidence on patients’ experiences with digital health interventions (DHIs) for the management of chronic pain.

This systematic review will consider qualitative and mixed methods studies that explore the experience of patients (aged 18 years and older) with chronic pain engaging in DHIs to manage their pain. MEDLINE Ovid, PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Scopus databases will be searched for published studies. The systematic review will be conducted in accordance with the ENTREQ (Enhancing Transparency in Reporting the Synthesis of Qualitative Research) guidelines. Following the 3-step thematic synthesis methodology of Thomas and Harden, titles and abstracts will be screened by 2 independent reviewers (AM and HM), and a third reviewer (MI or FM) will resolve any conflict that arises before the full-text screening. The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist tool will be used to critically appraise the included studies. The extracted data will be imported to NVivo (QSR International), where thematic synthesis will be used to derive analytical themes from the included studies.

Themes that encapsulate the patient experience will be identified from qualitative evidence, and these themes will shed light on the perceived benefits and disadvantages, usability, acceptability, and the overall impact digital tools can have on the lives of those with chronic pain.

This systematic review will identify, appraise, and synthesize the overall experience of patients engaging in DHI to manage a diverse range of chronic pain conditions. By elaborating the patient experience through qualitative analysis, the findings from this review will enhance our current understanding of the experiences of patients with chronic pain using digital tools for the self-management of their pain and highlight what person-centered elements are essential for future DHI development.

Trial Registration:
PROSPERO CRD42023445100;

International Registered Report Identifier (IRRID):
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere52469
Number of pages8
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2024


  • chronic pain
  • mHealth
  • experience
  • systematic review
  • self-management
  • eHealth
  • protocol
  • digital health
  • thematic synthesis
  • digital health intervention
  • patients' experiences
  • digital tool
  • person-centered
  • patient experiences
  • pain-management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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