Health Team

Specialist support may offer relief from chronic pain

Posted March 24, 2009 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2009 6:53 p.m. EDT

Most people have pain for a short time, but some suffer from chronic pain, which can last for 12 weeks or more.

Chronic pain interferes with a patient’s mental health, ability to work and ability to relate to other people at times, according to Dr. Stephen Dobscha, a psychiatrist at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oregon.

Most chronic-pain patients go to primary-care doctors, instead of chronic pain specialists. Researchers at the Portland VA Medical Center looked at whether a treatment method called collaborative care may be more effective.

“What you see in a collaborative intervention is adding what's called a decision-support team or some experts to the primary-care setting to help primary-care providers deliver the best care,” Dobscha said.

Researchers followed two groups of veterans with musculoskeletal pain for one year. One group continued seeing a primary-care doctor without the additional education or specialist support offered to the second group of patients.

In the second group, specialists developed a personal treatment plan and charted patients' progress on functional goals.

The second group experienced modest improvements in functioning and less pain.

“We were able to do it in a population that was older and that had very long-standing pain on average and who had multiple medical problems,” Dobscha said.

Researchers said the results reinforced the idea that a collaborative-care approach is more effective in treating a variety of chronic conditions.