By Angela Klose
Richard Posthuma suffers from chronic headaches. He has designed an app that will help advance research into and treatment of this condition.
Richard Posthuma, Head of SAP Business Operations EMEA North, has suffered from cluster headache disorder, also known as suicide headaches, since 2009. Over time, Richard has learned to read the signs of an attack: “It starts with pressure behind your eye and builds up very quickly in a couple of minutes. And then you want to push the pain back because it’s so intense. It feels like somebody putting an icepick into your eye, and it lasts from 30 minutes to one hour, occasionally up to thirteen times a day.”
Very little is known about the possible causes of this chronic condition, which is associated with periodic intervals of intense pain. Cluster headache has been described since the Middle Ages but its causes are still unknown. Today, in the European Union alone, 600,000 people suffer from cluster headache. There is no cure, but patients can find relief from symptoms once they have been diagnosed. And they can find out about their personal triggers for an attack, as Richard did.
“By keeping a headache diary, I found out that external factors like the weather have a great influence on my condition. When a thunderstorm approaches and the air pressure drops, I am much more susceptible to an attack. On the other hand, regularly taking vitamin D and having a Shiatsu massage to relax my neck muscles help prevent further attacks. Actually, I’ve been symptom-free for several months, my headache is under control, and this has given me my life back.”
The idea behind the app
Richard wanted to help other patients find their triggers. But he discovered that there is not enough patient data available to recognize patterns. To change that, he teamed with the Dutch Federation of Headache Centers, Utrecht University, and Delaware, and started developing an app that helps collect and analyze patient data systematically. Now, three years later, the headache app is being trialed by patients at Boerhaave Medical Center in Amsterdam, and at two other specialized headache centers in the Netherlands: Isala Hospital in Zwolle and Twee Steden Hospital in Tilburg.
The simple-to-use app benefits doctors and their patients, explains Dr. Emile Couturier, neurologist at Boerhaave Medical Center, Amsterdam: “The idea is that we get information about the patients in real time. We know the moment they suffer an attack, and the moment they take medication because this information appears on our screens in the clinics right away. We can monitor our patients from a distance and intervene much earlier. Patients can see in real time what is happening just before the attack starts and what might trigger their attacks.”
Professor Marjolijn Sorbi, professor of eHealth and health psychology at Utrecht University, says: “The app helps patients learn about their own condition. This matters because cluster headache patients usually feel very helpless. Learning about their headaches gives them some sort of control. This helps them be self-supportive and better manage their symptoms.”
SAP HANA and the SAP Cloud Platform enable the data analysis
The app runs on the SAP Cloud Platform and SAP HANA. It enables medical and other related data about chronic headache patients to be collected, stored and analyzed. It can be used by patients suffering from any of the four types of chronic headache: cluster headache, migraine, tension headache, and headache caused by overusing medication. The data is combined with time-stamped GPS data about weather conditions, thus providing an enormous wealth of data.
In the future, the headache app could even collect patient data from all 40 headache centers in the Netherlands to create a consistent data base to advance research on chronic headaches. Recent data shows that 50 million people suffer from chronic headache in Europe, and the condition costs the region €112 billion a year.
Richard’s aspirations don’t stop here: “My wish is to help patients have their condition diagnosed sooner. And I would really like to create a version of the app for children.” In the future, we envision that the platform and the app will used for other chronic conditions as well.
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