The covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for people living with chronic pain around the world and its long-term consequences are likely to be substantial, according to a study from researchers at the University of Bath’s Centre for Pain Research, published in PAIN.

The Topical Review suggests that with many doctors specializing in pain being redeployed to focus on the immediate crisis, access to traditional services for patients suffering from acute conditions, such as nerve damage or arthritis, has been severely disrupted. While this creates an immediate capacity challenge for healthcare professionals, it has also provided them an opportunity to move toward the greater use of telemedicine with online consultation, according to a media release from University of Bath.

For those experiencing chronic or persistent pain, access to healthcare professionals who can advise on physical therapy, psychological support, or prescriptions for painkillers has relied heavily on face-to-face consultations. With the recent shift toward online web conferencing platforms in conducting many of our daily interactions, the researchers see a possibility to enable vital access to services at a time of crisis.

The team from the University have been working with healthcare providers locally, nationally and internationally on how best to manage that process and to support patients.

“There is clearly an opportunity to reform how consultations for patients with chronic pain are delivered through new online platforms and technologies. This has come to the fore as a result of covid-19, the immediate public health challenge we are facing and the abrupt shifts we have seen in people adopting new ways of working and interacting. Applying telemedicine to practice, which our team at Bath has assisted with, has enabled doctors to keep their doors open, in a virtual way, to patients who are desperately in need of help and support. It is having important impacts.”

— Christopher Eccleston, Professor of Medical Psychology and Director of the Centre for Pain Research at the University of Bath

Yet, Eccleston and team argue in the release that the broader application of telemedicine is complex and now requires further research in particular about how it can be best coordinated, financially supported and integrated with traditional practice.

He adds: “Changing practice in such an unplanned way will have positive and negative consequences, many unforeseen. Systems can establish protocols that can enable them to oversee, monitor, and capture important patient and provider outcomes and perspectives. When we come to redesign services after the pandemic, we will need to share that experience and use it to learn what works, to modify what does not work, and to build new models of care for people living with chronic pain.”

[Source(s): University of Bath, News Medical Life Sciences]