Telehealth for Chronic Pain Gets High Marks – But Why?

Nearly 8 months of dealing with the coronavirus crisis has brought telehealth to the forefront. As a matter of survival, healthcare providers turned to telehealth as clinics and hospitals began shutting down in the spring. Yet one type of care seemed to flourish with telehealth even before the pandemic hit: chronic pain care. Now we learn something rather interesting about it.

virtual care for chronic pain

Data recently shared at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists demonstrates that virtual care for chronic pain gets high marks among patients. Even more interesting is that the data comes from a 2019 study out of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Even before the pandemic forced doctors to embrace telehealth, chronic pain patients opting for virtual care were already pleased with it.

The question is, why. Thankfully, answers can be found in the data itself. Just listen to what chronic pain patients say and they will tell you exactly why they are big fans of telehealth.

More About the Study

The UCLA study looked at some 1,400 patients accounting for nearly 3,000 telehealth visits over a seven-month span. Among other things, the study found that:

  • patients saved a median of 69 minutes that would have otherwise been spent in traffic
  • they saved $22 per trip that would have otherwise been spent on gas and parking
  • they reported being satisfied with the experience at a rate of 92%.

What patients like about telehealth reveals what they do not like about traditional office visits. Just the experience of not having to sit in traffic says a lot, especially when you are talking about patients suffering from chronic pain.

An Already Uncomfortable Experience

Imagine you suffer from chronic osteoarthritis pain. You would normally visit your doctor at Lone Star Pain Medicine located in Weatherford, TX. You live outside of town, so it is a 30-minute drive into the office. Now imagine getting hung up in traffic.

You are already uncomfortable from sitting in the car. Any pain you are experiencing will only be exacerbated the longer you sit in traffic. Once at the office, you may have to spend some time sitting in the waiting room. More pain. Then you have to drive another 30 minutes home at the conclusion of the visit.

This illustration makes clear one of the reasons patients appreciate telehealth. Being able to visit with their doctors remotely mitigates the discomfort of having to drive to and from the office. Patients are more likely to see their doctors regularly in the absence of additional discomfort.

Saving Time and Money

The essence of telehealth for many patients is the ability to save both time and money. Even if you do not suffer from chronic pain, you would prefer to spend as little as possible to go see your doctor. You are more than happy to save money by not having to pay for gas or parking. And if your doctor offers a reduced rate for telehealth visits, that is a bonus.

Time is another big factor. Who among us relishes the idea of giving up 2 to 3 hours for an office visit that might last no more than 15 minutes? Yet this is exactly what we do. Between commuting and office time, the entire experience can take several hours. That same visit can be conducted in a fraction of the time via telehealth.

Chronic pain sufferers were fans of telehealth long before the pandemic hit. Now we know why. It should not be surprising if doctors continue to offer telehealth services even after the pandemic emergency is over.