Evidence-based pain care at Merri Health

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Published August 03 2022

Chronic and persisting pain affects 1 in 5 Australians aged 45 and over, with an estimated 3.2 million adults currently living with debilitating pain.

Access to timely support has been limited, with wait times for chronic pain services in Australia averaging 120 days.

Alongside the daily challenges of dealing with chronic pain comes an increased risk of depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem and social isolation.

To combat this growing health gap, with the support of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN), Merri Health has established a free Chronic Pain Service (CPS) to provide evidence-based, multidisciplinary care to help people self-manage persistent pain and recover.

The CPS aims to improve physical and mental wellbeing and develop links with broader service systems to support an integrated approach.

By utilising existing partnerships with key hospitals such as the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Merri Health identified opportunities to improve patient and provider experiences, increasing community access to reduce waitlist pressure and increasing knowledge transfer between clinicians for more integrated care.

Results from the first 14 months confirm the CPS’ impact on reducing the burden of chronic pain for patients and hospitals still grappling with the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Exceptional community uptake has seen over 160 clients referred to the service since inception.

Data for Jan-Dec 2021 from the Electronic Persistent Pain Outcomes Collaboration (ePPOC), an Australasian initiative to improve outcomes for people with chronic pain shows:

  • 91.7% of patients reported making at least some overall improvement
  • 75% reported an improvement in their physical abilities
  • 83% reported clinically significant improvement in depression
  • 78% of clients made a clinically significant improvement in how pain interferes with their daily life
  • 75% of individuals made a clinically significant improvement in pain catastrophising
  • 67% of clients had made a 50% reduction in their use of opioid medication by discharge
  • median wait times were 28 days, with 97.2% of wait times under 3 months

The CPS was designed especially for clients where high-intensity tertiary outpatient clinics are not appropriate. It includes individual and group therapy with allied health and medical staff, providing a variety of evidence-based approaches tailored to each person to: 

  • Learn more about their pain
  • Learn pain management skills and strategies and apply them actively to their life
  • Improve their confidence in living their best life, despite the pain

The service uses a variety of treatment models, including pain medication and medical management, cognitive functional therapy, a range of psychological approaches, lifestyle coaching and exercise.

Initially funded for two years, the success of the CPS has seen the program extended for a further two years to June 2024.

Antoinette Mertins, Merri Health General Manager Aged and Primary Care said, “Building strong links with the broader system has been key to the service’s success. Through partnerships particularly with GPs and tertiary services, we’ve supported integrated care that is responsive to the needs of people with chronic pain.”

More:  Merri Health | Support to help you manage persistent pain