Medtronic announced a ground-breaking development for its Intellis neurostimulation platform today, September 18, 2017.  The FDA issued clearance for managing the pain relief technology with a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet device. Neurostimulation for pain management isn’t new. Following complex rotator cuff surgeries in 2013 and 2013, I was sent home from the surgical center with a TENS unit in place. The e-stim unit zapped me with a pulsing current to distract my brain from attending to the extreme pain levels on their way when the nerve block wore off. For weeks following surgery, the TENS unit supplemented and then replaced the inevitably prescribed opioids. I slept with the faithful external neurostim unit buzzing my shoulder all night. Within weeks I no longer needed the TENS unit, but I was grateful to have had it. But my recovery from surgery was a passing event. What about people who have chronic, intractable pain?

Chronic intractable pain is a villain. Almost 100,000 people develop chronic intractable pain following lumbosacral spine procedures each year, representing approximately 30% of the 300,000 annual surgeries. The key to pain relief in the Intellis platform is a medical device placed under a patient’s skin to deliver mild electrical impulses to block pain signals. There are other spinal cord stimulation (SCS) implant systems. According to Medtronic, however, battery longevity is a common SCS problem. The Intellisis platform apparently solves the battery life issue, but it also does much more. When managed by the Samsung tablet, Intellis also interfaces with Evolve workflow software. Physicians can use Evolve to standardize and balance SCS high-dose and low-dose therapy settings. The Intellisis platform also tracks and records patient activity 24/7 so doctors can monitor progress and make needed adjustments.

Medtronic’s clearance to utilize the Samsung tablet with Intellisis is a significant step forward in chronic severe pain management. Not only does Intellsis have the potential to bring relief to many individuals, but the Medtronic non-pharmaceutical pain management solution could also potentially play a significant role as one way to combat the opioid epidemic. If people don’t need drugs to handle pain, they’re logically less likely to become addicted.