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Research provides new blueprint for chronic pain care


Matt Woodley


23/05/2022 3:40:25 PM

The framework promotes person-centred care and aims to support clinicians treating the one in five Australians living with chronic pain.

GP treating patient with chronic pain.
New training programs will aim to help clinicians treat patients with chronic pain.

Aside from being debilitating, chronic pain is also economically damaging, with an estimated cost to the Australian economy of $139 billion per year.
 
But despite the pronunced impact, lead researcher Professor Helen Slater says people in Australia with chronic pain are not consistently being supported with ‘high quality person-centred care’, and it’s a similar situation across the world.
 
‘Typically, health professional training and education in chronic pain care is shaped through a theoretical and clinical evidence lens, reflecting what we as academics and clinical experts think are important knowledge and skills, not necessarily what is important to people living with pain,’ Professor Slater said.
 
‘Living with chronic pain – or pain that lasts longer than three months – means lives are often put on hold. You can’t see pain, but it can derail people’s lives.’
 
To help rectify this oversight, Dr Slater has contributed to the development of a new ‘Listen to me, learn from me’ person-centred framework, aimed at helping healthcare professionals support people living with chronic pain.
 
With funding support from a four-year Commonwealth grant, the framework will be used as a blueprint for the development of Australian interdisciplinary pain training programs.
 
Study co-author Professor Andrew Briggs said the new research had flipped the training lens 180 degrees to find out what was important to those that had, or cared for someone with, chronic pain.
 
‘We partnered with Australians living with chronic pain and carers to find out what they considered was the most important thing health professionals needed to be able to do to help them manage their chronic pain,’ Professor Briggs said.
 
‘Australian health professionals working in chronic pain care also contributed to shaping this framework.
 
‘One pain care priority in particular – “Listen to me, learn from me” – captured the true essence of person-centred chronic pain care, and we knew right away that’s what the framework should be called.’
 
Nearly three quarters of chronic pain respondents to the new research reported previously using opioids to help control their pain, while two thirds had been prescribed antidepressants.
 
Dr Simon Holliday, a GP with a special interest in pain management, is well aware of the limitations Australia’s healthcare system possesses when it comes to treating chronic pain, as well as its reliance on pharmaceutical products.
 
He previously worked with his own multidisciplinary team to deliver training on a ‘middle path’ GPs can follow when helping patients with chronic care.
 
‘We aimed to give time-poor GPs alternatives to reaching for the script-pad for chronic pain and to provide more multifaceted care, similar to that provided by a multidisciplinary team and similar to care provided in a general chronic disease model,’ he told newsGP.
 
‘Additionally, we advised on opioid non-initiation or weaning. We advised that, if opioids were provided, it was necessary to utilise strategies such as are found in dependency medicine.
 
‘We hoped this would assist public and individual health with better pain care with any opioids provided being surrounded by harm minimisation strategies.’
 
The latest attempt to further progress chronic pain care in Australia will build on existing resources, like those developed by Dr Holliday, via new training programs set to be rolled out to all Australian health and medical professionals in 2023.
 
Underpinning this latest effort are 44 specific priorities that feature in nine ‘key focus areas’.
 
Professor Peter O’Sullivan, who also contributed to the framework, says these priorities involve ‘a range of skills’ that will form new health professional training targets, such as pain validation and more effective communication.
 
‘Quality pain care is not routinely adopted,’ he said.
 
‘Our aim is to ensure Australian health professionals are well trained to know how to best support people living with chronic pain and making these training programs digital means that more health professionals will have access to them.’
 
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