With COVID-19, healthcare systems across the world are strained. This leaves the millions of patients who rely on the services of medical professionals to help treat and manage their chronic health conditions worried about their future. Not only do many chronic illnesses affect the risk of severe complications after contracting COVID-19, but the strain this pandemic is placing on healthcare systems everywhere is endangering those who rely on those systems to function daily.
Add to that a stringent quarantine and global lockdown, and many find themselves left unable to meet with their doctors, with a dwindling supply of medication. We need to acknowledge the problems at hand and help find better ways to organize and mobilize healthcare in the age of COVID-19, and beyond. One way to do so is through telehealth-based pain management. We have the means and the technology to make proper use of telehealth services in more cases than ever before, via widespread internet access and better, stronger, more mobile devices.
Long after the coronavirus has passed, telehealth will continue to be especially important for patients in areas with limited access to the specialists needed to treat many chronic pain conditions, and for patients who struggle with disability-related mobility restrictions. And by combining telehealth with an improved system of medication delivery, we can continue to ensure care for society’s most vulnerable in times such as this, and other similar crises.
The Challenges of In-Person Pain Management
Pain must be addressed – more than just an inconvenience, pain (especially chronic pain) is an underestimated bane on the productivity and wellbeing of the average American, and it is a sensation closely linked not only to a host of physical conditions, but mental ones as well. Pain is an important function of a normal and healthy human body – but when the body experiences aberrant and constant instances of pain, the accumulative stress and long list of potential factors involved must both be addressed immediately.
In-person pain management specialists can help individual patients address and identify the most relevant factors, reduce overall pain, help devise coping mechanisms to combat the frequency and severity of pain episodes, and educate patients and their loved ones on how best to manage their diagnosis. But in-person pain management can be difficult to get, and such lack of access affects a large portion of potential patients.
The biggest barriers to care for patients seeking pain management services include geographical distance (simply being too far from a specialized clinic or institute), functional disability, stigma related to seeking treatment, socioeconomic disadvantages, and a lack of knowledge regarding their condition and its potential treatment. Telehealth addresses a host of these issues, by providing patients with the means to access specialized care over any distance, regardless of disability or lack of opportunity for travel.
Telehealth Benefits for Pain Management Patients
Telehealth pain management is more than just a theoretical tool – its application in real life cases has been thoroughly researched in a number of clinical studies, and interest in the growing telehealth pain management industry is bigger than ever given today’s circumstances. Patients are in dire need of access to qualitative medicine without endangering their own health, and modern Internet-based telecommunication tools make access easier than ever.
But is telehealth as effective in helping patients deal with pain-related conditions as in-person pain management? Based on current research, specific treatments such as teletherapy and remote online CBT can effectively improve quality of life for patients with chronic pain, and telehealth can be a useful tool for communicating with patients remotely, offering medical advice, improving medication adherence, and listening to patient complaints. However, this does not mean telehealth is equal in efficacy to in-person treatment.
The current research generally states that it’s still too early to draw conclusions, given that the implementation of telehealth as a useful tool to treat chronic pain is complex, and requires a great deal of additional data. Preliminary data suggests it’s a useful alternative, however, to simply not providing any access to pain management services – and there’s certainly more than enough research to suggest that telehealth will play an important role in the continued treatment of chronic pain, especially for patients who struggle with the aforementioned barriers to treatment.
Why Telehealth Is the Future
This pandemic certainly counts as a set of special and unfortunate circumstances, but it is serving to further highlight the shortcomings of our current medical system, especially in terms of access to specialized care. Chronic pain is a problem that affects Americans across the board, yet access to treatment is limited.
When leveraged properly, telehealth could greatly broaden access while providing an effective alternative to in-person pain management. But it will take some time for telehealth to become an important norm in medicine. COVID-19 may accelerate the process, yet we will need more time and research to adapt chronic pain treatments into telehealth-ready therapies.
- We live in a day and age where access to medical care is arguably more important and more difficult than ever before.
- Several barriers to treatment have previously been identified in cases of chronic pain, and access to pain management is something patients continue to struggle with.
- Telehealth is more feasible and more affordable than ever, and its widespread implementation is more realistic than ever.
- Current data on telehealth as an alternative to in-person treatment for chronic pain is scarce, but promising. Teletherapy can help improve quality of life for patients, and telehealth is certainly a useful supplementary tool in cases where in-person treatment is a possibility, while expanding treatment options for those who couldn’t access pain management services to begin with.
- Telehealth will continue to play an expanding role in the treatment of chronic pain as it becomes easier and cheaper to implement, and as healthcare providers throughout the country continue to adopt it to improve access. Its growth is particularly relevant given the ongoing pandemic.
The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the need for robust telemedicine services, especially in the treatment of chronic pain and other related chronic health conditions – and these services will continue to be highly relevant in the near and far future, especially as the US population continues to age, and the cost of healthcare is expected to rise.