Is Telehealth Appropriate for Pain Management?

Posted on  September 1, 2017


A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at approximately 250 patients who were being treated for various chronic pain conditions by their primary care physician (PCP).  The results indicated that patients receiving telehealth monitoring, when compared to normal care, were twice as likely to report 30% less pain after 12 months.  The researchers involved also found that fewer patients receiving telehealth monitoring started taking opioids than those receiving normal care.

In May of 2017, the U.S. Pain Foundation stated that telemedicine is not designed to replace in-office visits, but rather to serve as a supplement to traditional care.  More specifically, telehealth is meant to augment the physician/patient interaction by allowing communication and monitoring outside of the regular office visit. Adding telehealth to the patient’s care plan has proven to be a cost-effective way to not only improve pain outcomes but also improve depression outcomes.  Likewise, it allows for better patient education about their specific conditions, nutrition, exercise, and medication compliance.

Because managing chronic pain effectively can be an incredible challenge for both the physician and the patient, it is widely thought that telehealth can help bridge the gap – especially for patients located in remote areas that lack easy access to pain specialists.  At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, they designed a telemedicine pain clinic to extend services to the island of Martha’s Vineyard to study the success of telehealth for pain management.  Over a 13 month period where approximately 240 telehealth evaluations were conducted, the clinicians found that the patients had a positive perception of the program and considered it a success.

With the advances in technology today, telehealth is becoming more and more of a viable option for chronic pain management.  Especially now that providers have the ability to clearly see a patient’s range of motion and functional abilities.  With millions of patients using technology to access their health information, telehealth is becoming a much more acceptable form of care.  In fact, some research shows that it may soon be the preferred method of receiving care.

As it relates to chronic pain management, using telehealth is not meant for the initial visit or consultation.  Rather it is meant for follow-up visits, progress reviews, changing medication or even for counseling.  It’s a methodology that provides patients with better access to care while saving both the providers and the patients time and money.

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