A systematic review of the effect of waiting for treatment for chronic pain

Pain. 2008 May;136(1-2):97-116. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.06.018. Epub 2007 Aug 17.


In many countries timely access to care is a growing problem. As medical costs escalate health care resources must be prioritized. In this context there is an increasing need for benchmarks and best practices in wait-time management. The Canadian Pain Society struck a Task Force in December 2005 to identify benchmarks for acceptable wait-times for treatment of chronic pain. As part of the mandate a systematic review of the literature regarding the relationship between waiting times, health status and health outcomes for patients awaiting treatment for chronic pain was undertaken. Twenty-four studies met the inclusion criteria for the review. The current review supports that patients experience a significant deterioration in health related quality of life and psychological well being while waiting for treatment for chronic pain during the 6 months from the time of referral to treatment. It is unknown at what point this deterioration begins as results from the 14 trials involving wait-times of 10 weeks or less yielded mixed results with wait-times amounting to as little as 5 weeks, associated with deterioration. It was concluded that wait-times for chronic pain treatment of 6 months or longer are medically unacceptable. Further study is necessary to determine at what stage the deterioration begins from the onset of pain to treatment and the impact of waiting on treatment outcomes. Most important is the need to improve access to appropriate care for patients with chronic pain, an escalating public health care problem with significant human and economic costs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / psychology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / trends
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / trends
  • Humans
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Waiting Lists*