Enhancing Exposure Treatment for Youths With Chronic Pain: Co-design and Qualitative Approach

J Particip Med. 2023 Mar 9:15:e41292. doi: 10.2196/41292.


Background: Increasing the access to and improving the impact of pain treatments is of utmost importance, especially among youths with chronic pain. The engagement of patients as research partners (in contrast to research participants) provides valuable expertise to collaboratively improve treatment delivery.

Objective: This study looked at a multidisciplinary exposure treatment for youths with chronic pain through the lens of patients and caregivers with the aim to explore and validate treatment change processes, prioritize and develop ideas for improvement, and identify particularly helpful treatment elements.

Methods: Qualitative exit interviews were conducted with patients and caregivers at their discharge from 2 clinical trials (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01974791 and NCT03699007). Six independent co-design meetings were held with patients and caregivers as research partners to establish a consensus within and between groups. The results were validated in a wrap-up meeting.

Results: Patients and caregivers described that exposure treatment helped them better process pain-related emotions, feel empowered, and improve their relationship with each other. The research partners developed and agreed upon 12 ideas for improvement. Major recommendations include that pain exposure treatment should be disseminated more not only among patients and caregivers but also among primary care providers and the general public to facilitate an early referral for treatment. Exposure treatment should allow flexibility in terms of duration, frequency, and delivery mode. The research partners prioritized 13 helpful treatment elements. Most of the research partners agreed that future exposure treatments should continue to empower patients to choose meaningful exposure activities, break long-term goals into smaller steps, and discuss realistic expectations at discharge.

Conclusions: The results of this study have the potential to contribute to the refinement of pain treatments more broadly. At their core, they suggest that pain treatments should be disseminated more, flexible, and transparent.

Keywords: caregivers; co-design; exposure treatment; pain; participatory design; qualitative analysis; youths with chronic pain.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01974791
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03699007