Study to help ease chronic pain

A new study into which treatments actually work for the one in five Australian adults and children who suffer chronic pain is underway at UOW’s Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI).

This initiative, known as the electronic Persistent Pain Outcomes Collaboration (ePPOC), aims to help improve the quality of services and outcomes for patients suffering with chronic pain, which costs the Australian economy $34 billion per annum, making it the nation’s third most costly health problem.

Dr Hilarie Tardif, who leads the program at UOW, said while the cost of chronic pain to the country is large, the greatest burden is borne by those who suffer persistent pain.

“People in pain have high rates of depression and anxiety, often endure economic difficulties due to time away from work, and may face doubt from friends, family and health professionals that their pain is real, “ she said.

“Sufferers often put up with their pain for many years before receiving treatment. Waiting lists at specialist pain services can be long, and the treatments they offer vary across services. ”

Previous studies have found that arthritis and back problems, both associated with chronic pain, are the most common causes for people of working age (between 45 and 64) to drop out of the workforce, accounting for 40 per cent of forced retirements.

Pain is now the most common reason that people seek medical help, with one in five GP consultations involving a patient with chronic pain and experts expect that number will only increase as Australia’s population ages – from around 3.2 million cases in 2007 to 5 million by 2050.

Based on its experience establishing outcomes centres in the related clinical fields of rehabilitation and palliative care, AHSRI was chosen by the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) to implement and manage ePPOC.

“We were delighted to receive this funding from the ACI,” Dr Tardif said.

“The NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has been a strong advocate for people suffering from chronic pain and is very supportive of this new initiative”.

The first phase of ePPOC involves participation by 11 specialist pain services across NSW, with other services around Australia and New Zealand likely to join the collaboration later this year and throughout 2014.

“Pain management services currently collect a wealth of information about their patients, the treatments they receive and their outcomes. However this information and the protocols used to collect it vary across services, making it difficult to compare outcomes between services and create benchmarks for performance,” Dr Tardif said.

Under the study, pain management services will collect an agreed set of data items, including standardised assessment tools to measure the outcomes for patients as a result of treatment.

AHSRI will then use this information to develop a national benchmarking system for the pain sector, which will lead to better outcomes and best practice interventions for patients in chronic pain.

The data will also enable development of a coordinated approach to research into the management of pain in Australasia.

For further information, please contact Professor Kathy Eagar on +61 2 4221 4411.


  • One in five Australians will suffer with chronic pain at some time in their life. Chronic pain is defined as constant daily pain for a period of three or more months over a six month period.