Introduction: Individuals living in rural/remote areas have recognised barriers to specialist services for persistent pain management. Although there is current evidence to support the use of telehealth to deliver individual pain management support, there is minimal evidence to support the use of pain management programs delivered within a group model, using telehealth. The aim of the present research was to perform a formative evaluation of a persistent pain management program implemented using a multisite telehealth group model, and to examine consumer perceptions.
Methods: The Manage Your Pain multisite telehealth group program was developed as a modified hub-and-spoke model. The model allowed participants from multiple rural/remote 'spoke' sites in Queensland, Australia to access four 2-hour specialist persistent pain management sessions from a metropolitan interdisciplinary persistent pain management centre ('hub' site, 491-1009 km from spoke sites), and simultaneously enable real-time access/interactions between participants at each of the spoke sites. Twenty-one individuals living with persistent pain participated in one of five multisite telehealth groups over the 10-month period. All participants completed standard pain scales before and after the pain management program, including Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire 20 (CPAQ20), Brief Pain Inventory (BPI), Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS 21), Pain Self Efficacy Questionnaire (PSEQ) and the Participant Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS). The Patient Impression of Change Scale (PICS), a telehealth perceptions survey, and a semi-structured telephone interview were completed post-program.
Results: Results revealed significant (p<0.05) improvements in the activity subscale and total score of the CPAQ, with 6 (30%) showing reliable improvement (90% confidence interval), indicating higher levels of activity engagement and pain acceptance after the program. Four (19%) participants made reliable improvement on the BPI interference. Post-program, the PICS revealed 65% of participants reported improvements in overall function, 61% indicated improved mood, 57% reported improved physical activity and 50% had some improvement in pain. Post-program, less than 10% of participants reported having technical (audio, visual) issues that had impacted on their sessions, and more than 90% found telehealth to be comfortable, convenient and would consider using it for their healthcare in the future. Post-program, most participants felt they had connected and were in a shared health experience with other group members through the multisite telehealth model. The interviews revealed three main themes: 'group experiences', which involved comments relating to the dynamics of the group and the shared experience; 'telehealth accessibility', which pertained to perceptions of the telehealth model for accessing specialist services; and 'limitations and concerns', where participants spoke of possible improvements to the program delivery model.
Conclusions: Results confirmed that participants received benefit from the pain management program and that they had positive perceptions of receiving the service using a telehealth model. The present findings provide positive data to support using telehealth to deliver specialist persistent pain management for individuals who face accessibility issues in rural and remote communities. The model also demonstrated that positive elements of group treatment can be achieved through telehealth group models.
Keywords: chronic pain; pain management; persistent pain; telehealth; telemedicine; videoconferencing; Australia.