Pain Coach, an app that aims to guide surgery patients with post-operative pain management, took first place at Halifax startup hub Volta’s annual Virtual Pitch Competition last week.

The company is the brainchild of Emily Johnston, a clinical pharmacist who works with trauma victims. It aims to give patients the information and personalized guidance they need to more effectively manage their pain, as well as to better self advocate.

Held Thursday, the event featured three-minute pitches from early-stage companies across a range of sectors and was sponsored by Norway’s, which helps companies automate the process of finding and claiming innovation tax credits.

“I am very much an advocate for patients to be incorporated into the decisions around their medications,” Johnston said in a Nova Scotia Health statement earlier this month. “I want to help patients and healthcare providers feel more connected.”

One key goal of Pain Coach is to help patients find alternatives to opioids, which have been the historical go-to for surgical pain management, but are labour-intensive for doctors to prescribe and raise the spectre of addiction. For example, one feature of the app is its ability to offer end-users guidance about opioid consumption based on their specific preference and risk factors.

In fact, the app is currently in clinical trials to determine if it can reduce opioid use. A feasibility study was previously conducted with 49 patients last spring.

“Often, we treat patients with a variety of pain medications, and in the hospital, they receive good monitoring,” said Johnston in October. “We try to wean them off the stronger opioid medications but sometimes that’s not possible due to the nature of their pain, and that leaves a gap when they leave hospital.”

One of Pain Coach’s early financial backers has been the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation’s Innovation Catalyst Fund, which provides backing to early-stage life sciences and medtech companies run by people connected to the organization. Johnston works out of the hospital as part of her pharmacy practice.

She also said previously that one eventual benefit of personalized pain coaching like her company offers could be a reduced burden on acute care medical services, since patients who experience unmanageable levels of pain often go to the hospital seeking help.

“I’m hoping to show that it will reduce wait times in emergency rooms because patients will have the tools they need to manage post-operative pain problems when appropriate, at home,” she said. “I think we need to continue to challenge the status quo in our standard of care for patients.

“We are all different and we all have factors that affect what medications will work best for us.”