A slippery surface... can photographic images of pain improve communication in pain consultations?

Int J Surg. 2010;8(2):144-50. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2009.11.014. Epub 2010 Jan 9.


Aim: To ascertain the influence of images depicting different qualities of pain on unselected outpatient pain clinic consultations.

Methods: A resource of 64 colour images depicting different qualities of pain was given to patients in clinic waiting rooms, which they could take into consultations and use as a focus for discussion with clinicians. A questionnaire enquiring into the value of such images was completed at the end of each consultation separately and anonymously by clinicians and patients. The questionnaires carried identifiers that allowed pairing in the analysis, which was undertaken qualitatively and thematically.

Results: Forty-four percent (20/45) of Pain Clinics declaring an interest in taking part in the study returned 64/80 (80%) pairs of questionnaires. Eighty-six percent (54) of patients related their pain to at least one image during their consultation and 67% found discussion of the images facilitated dialogue. Eighty two percent of clinicians reported improved communication as a result of the images with 78% reporting degrees of greater understanding of patients' pain. The four main themes identified in analysis of questionnaire data included: a broadening of verbal dialogue; a sense of improved clinician-patient relationship; limitations of setting (time); a variety of practical benefits for future use. The most prominent effect was that the images appeared to encourage discussion of the affective elements of the pain experience.

Conclusion: The results suggest that introducing a focus of images of pain into unselected pain consultations can facilitate discussion and lead to more fruitful dialogue between patients and clinicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Clinics
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Photography*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • United Kingdom