Optimizing the primary care management of chronic pain through telecare

Sara Tierce-Hazard, Tina Sadarangani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. To evaluate the effectiveness of a collaborative telecare intervention on chronic pain management. Design. Randomized clinical trial. Settings and participants. Participants were recruited over a 2-year period from 5 primary care clinics within a single Veterans Affairs medical center. Patients aged 18 to 65 years were eligible if they had chronic (≥3 months) musculoskeletal pain of at least moderate intensity (Brief Pain Inventory [BPI] score ≥5). Patients were excluded if they had a pending disability claim or a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, moderately severe cognitive impairment, active suicidal ideation, current illicit drug use or a terminal illness or received primary care outside of the VA. Participants were randomized to either the telephone-delivered collaborative care management intervention group or usual care. Usual care was defined as continuing to receive care from their primary care provider for management of chronic, musculoskeletal pain. Intervention. The telecare intervention comprised automated symptom monitoring (ASM) and optimized analgesic management through an algorithm-guided stepped care approach delivered by a nurse case manager. ASM was delivered either by an interactive voice-recorded telephone call (51%) or by internet (49%), set according to patient preference. Intervention calls occurred at 1 and 3 months. Additional contact with participants from the intervention group was generated in response to ASM trend reports. Main outcome measures. The primary outcome was the BPI total score. The BPI scale ranges from 0 to 10, with higher scores indicating worsening pain. A 1-point change is considered clinically important. Secondary pain outcomes included BPI interference and severity, global pain improvement, treatment satisfaction, and use of opioids and other analgesics. Patients were interviewed at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months. Main results. A total of 250 participants were enrolled, 124 assigned to the intervention group and 126 assigned to usual care. The mean (SD) baseline BPI scores were 5.31 (1.81) for the intervention group and 5.12 (1.80) for usual care. Compared with usual care, the intervention group had a 1.02-point lower BPI score at 12 months (95% confidence interval [CI], -1.58 to -0.47) (P < 0.001). Patients in the intervention group were nearly twice as likely to report at least a 30% improvement in their pain score by 12 months (51.7% vs. 27.1%; relative risk [RR], 1.9 [95% CI, 1.4 to 2.7]), with a number needed to treat of 4.1 (95% CI, 3.0 to 6.4) for a 30% improvement. Patients in the intervention group were more likely to rate as good to excellent the medication prescribed for their pain (73.9% vs 50.9%; RR, 1.5 [95% CI, 1.2 to 1.8]). Patients in the usual care group were more likely to experience worsening of pain by 6 months compared with the intervention group. A greater number of analgesics were prescribed to patients in the intervention group; however, opioid use between groups did not differ at baseline or at any point during the trial period. For the secondary outcomes, the intervention group reported greater improvement in depression compared with the usual care group, and this difference was statistically significant (P < 0.001). They also reported fewer days of disability (P = 0.34). Conclusion. Telecare collaborative management was more effective in improving chronic pain outcomes than usual care. This was accomplished through the optimization of non-opioid analgesic therapy facilitated by a stepped care algorithm and automated symptom monitoring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-495
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Clinical Outcomes Management
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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