Providing Personalized Pain Resources: A Winning App for Rural and Remote British Columbians

Research Impact Awards 2022

Providing Personalized Pain Resources

A Winning App for Rural and Remote British Columbians

Skunkworks Hacking Pain

Scientific research leads health innovation, and one of the leading areas of research interest, is pain. Resolving and managing pain, in all its many forms from debilitating, and life altering, to simply constant and interfering – is a reminder that our body is processing discomfort, illness or injury. Pain can override one’s life and destroy interaction mentally, socially, professionally and personally.

“Super engaging session! Great mix of people and backgrounds, great facilitation!”

Participant, Hacking Pain

Providence Research in partnership with St. Paul’s Foundation, recognizes pain management as a universal experience needing greater scientific exploration. To investigate further the innovative research and exploratory ideas that could potentially find solutions, Providence Research and St. Paul’s Foundation developed a first of its kind skunkworks event, Hacking Pain, which took place last November.

The skunkworks program was guided by guest facilitators Marlies Van Dijk and Josh Mccutcheon from Alberta Health Services Design Lab, along with multi-disciplinary mentors from UBC, SFU, Providence Health Care Ventures Inc., and PHC. Judges for the event were Barb Langlois PHC Program Director Surgery, Andrea Lloyd, Associate Director, Engagement Entrepreneurship, UBC, Kristie Nicol, Patient Partner, Allan Noordvyk, Executive Director of Health Informatics, Providence Health Care, and Ainsley Sutherland, MD, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor Anesthesiology, Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

For Providence Research President Dr. Darryl Knight, skunkworks exceeded his expectations immeasurably. “This was a phenomenal success,” he said. “The level of energy maintained over a day and a half was palpable.”

Event participants formed teams based on problem areas of interests and hypothesized on potential pain treatment solutions. The teams were a mix of patients, students, and health care professionals, who defined a pain problem and resolved to treat or manage it, with a disruptive new idea.

The skunkworks event which took place over 1.5 days included 75 participants, compelled to explore innovative solutions to address, manage and resolve, the affliction of pain. Once the Hacking Pain teams defined their solution, they presented the ideas to a panel of judges with the opportunity to be awarded monetary prizes and recognition for their concepts, but most importantly, development of their idea for real world use.

“I loved watching the presentations at the end of the event. … In a short period of time, collections of strangers developed into cohesive teams and produced thought-provoking prototypes.”

Claire Doherty MBA/MPH, PMP

Leader, Virtual Health, Providence Health Care

2021 Research Impact Award Winner

The 2021 Research Impact Award, sponsored by Providence Research, went to the team that designed a functional prototype app to curate and identify salient information regionally, on coping with pain, specific to the app user’s geographical region.

As the winning Research Impact “Hacking Pain” idea, the app prototype went into full development and execution mode. The app’s evolution was guided by the expertise from Providence Health, the Centre for Digital Media and project managed by Faculty Advisor, Robyn Sussel, who oversaw the project’s progress from its early beginnings in January 2022 to completion of the project in April 2022.

It’s widely acknowledged that patients with pain are often left to navigate the healthcare system on their own and don’t always receive the best, most adequate treatment for their conditions – especially in remote and rural areas of British Columbia. These individuals often spend months on waiting lists for a physician consultation.

Dr. Ron Ree, PHC anesthesiologist, member of Physician Advisory Committee Discover Learn Innovate Pillar, who participated in the 2021 Hacking Pain skunkworks, had this to say, “…the beauty of the Skunkworks process is that it leverages the diverse strengths of the participants involved, so you don’t have to be an expert in the area being targeted. You have all the skills, so just some curiosity and problem solving skills are needed. It was also inspiring to see members of the Providence leadership there as well, which signified the importance and value that the institution places on the thoughts, problem solving abilities, and the creative processes that come out of these events”.

“Overall, I would highly recommend participating in the next Skunkworks!”

This app, now named PEPITA, can provide patients with medically-backed, legitimate resources curated regionally, to help alleviate or minimize the negative side effects of living with chronic pain, while they wait. PEPITA will assemble personalized, locally identified, recommendations in a straightforward, accessible and insightful manner for the apps end-user.

The Apps Main Features – Accessing Personalized Care

The tool’s entry point leads the client through an onboarding experience which helps identify what kind of information the user is seeking. The user is then taken to their resource feed where they can engage with, and read through, content that’s specifically curated for them.

One of the apps key features is the resource feedback component. Users can easily provide feedback about the selected resources by giving them a thumbs up or thumbs down. Each time the user inputs feedback, the website synthesizes this information and learns how to best aggregate resources provided.

Ideally, if patients have easy and immediate access to personalized pain care with management resources, like PEPTIA, their care will feel reinforced, sustained and organized. Further, it will lead positively, to greater personal comfort and most importantly, enriched quality of life for those who suffer from chronic and debilitating pain.

The 2021 Research Impact Award winning app is now being evaluated by Providence Research and Providence Health Care for its exciting next steps.


To find out more about how the PEPITA app works visit YouTube.

To find out more about the upcoming Skunkworks email:

Visit Providence Research to find out about the next Skunkworks Hacking Wounds: Prevention, treatment and management – SEPTEMBER 22-23, 2022. Hosted by Providence Research in partnership with St. Paul’s Foundation, this is a unique innovation event designed to tackle the challenges associated with wound care. Hacking Wounds is held in collaboration with the Discover, Learn & Innovate for Impact Physician Advisory Committee, Providence Health Innovation, Research + Engagement, and Providence Health Care.

We look forward to seeing you in Vancouver, at the next Skunkworks – Hacking Wounds!