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Computer-based program helps physicians monitor and treat chronic pain more effectively

tracking-pain-portraitFew things hit the pause button on life quite like pain and, of all the types, chronic pain is perhaps the most disruptive and frustrating.

As my colleague explains in the latest edition of Stanford Medicine magazine, crafting a treatment plan for a patient with chronic pain requires frequent input about the patient's physical symptoms as well as their social and emotional well-being. To report these data, patients often fill out many lengthy paper surveys. This is no small task, and digitizing these data to detect important trends over time is equally, well, painful.

So Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of Stanford's Division of Pain Medicine, and his colleagues developed a computer-based system to help physicians gather, track and treat chronic pain more effectively.

“It has utterly changed the way we practice medicine at Stanford,” Mackey said of the program. “I used to pay high school students to scan pen-and-paper patient surveys over the weekend,” he said. “The surveys took 45 minutes for patients to fill out and we couldn’t use the information in real time.”

By contrast, the computer-based survey program is much faster and more efficient. It's adaptive so questions that don't pertain to the patient are automatically skipped, and it stores an electronic record of the patient’s responses every time they fill out a pain survey. From the article:

The program, called the Collaborative Health Outcomes Information Registry, has since been adopted by other Stanford Medicine clinics and now contains data from about 10,000 people. Physicians can use the data to analyze why some patients improve faster than others and what makes patients vulnerable to complications like depression or addiction to painkillers. The CHOIR team is using it to see which patients are most likely to be dissatisfied with their health-care services, then ensure these patients get more attention.

As more people are living longer, monitoring and caring for patients with chronic pain will become increasingly important, Mackey explains. “The vast majority of challenging medical conditions that we’re facing now and into the future are chronic diseases,” Mackey said. “This is the future of health care.”

Previously: Precision health: a special report from Stanford Medicine magazine“People are looking for better answers”: A conversation about chronic painStudy: Effects of chronic pain on relationships can lead to emotional distress and National survey reveals extent of Americans living with pain
Illustration by Jason Holley

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