How COVID-19 Has Affected Chronic Pain Management
DATE: Wednesday 6th April 2022
Did you know 1 in 5 Australians live with chronic pain? It costs the Australian health care system nearly A$12 billion each year. Chronic pain can lead to lost workdays, increased financial strain, and opioid use. Managing chronic pain during the COVID-19 pandemic has proved challenging. Many healthcare systems have been unable to provide adequate health care to non-COVID patients. These struggles have unfortunately impacted millions of residents in Australia. But the situation has also shed light on areas that can improve and how. Other pain management strategies and better health systems are the keys to long-term success.
Redistribution of Healthcare Resources
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how many nations redistributed their healthcare resources. Who are the Australians most at risk of inadequate health care for non-COVID-related issues?
- People with mental health illnesses (e.g., depression and anxiety)
- Those living alone
- People of lower socioeconomic status
Experts find that these patients have higher rates of chronic disease. Other diagnoses are mental health disorders and cancer. Some of these cancer treatments are critical and life-saving.
Other things like cancer screening are being missed. Instead, redistribution of healthcare resources has gone towards critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Increases in patient volumes and staffing shortages pose unique problems. Some facilities are too crowded for other admits. Staff are experiencing higher rates of burnout.
For example, patients with serious mental illnesses are almost six times more likely to have cardiovascular disease. Additionally, life expectancy is significantly reduced.
Chronic Pain and COVID-19
Many causes of chronic pain remain unknown in the medical and science field. Injuries such as repeated muscle strains, arthritis, or fractures can lead to long-term pain. Illness and chronic disease also play a factor.
Recent studies have shown that almost 40% of cancer patients had related pain. Another 56% had non-specific pain reports. Increases in pain amongst cancer patients have also led to depression, anxiety, and reduced quality of life.
In Australia, cancer care disruption also impacts chronic pain management. It highlights the detrimental effects of the redistribution of healthcare resources.
One study in Australia looked at the pandemic and non-COVID care. They interviewed various patients, caregivers, and healthcare workers to see their viewpoints.
Over 40% of patients and caregivers reported disrupted care. Almost the same percentage of healthcare workers also saw delays and a reduction in clinical trials.
Importance of Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are an essential part of better chronic pain management. Implementing safe and effective clinical trials can help:
- Discover new treatments
- Offer better detection
- Discover new diagnoses
- Reduce chances of disease development
They also help with medication effectiveness and evaluating new therapies or treatments. Since chronic pain does not always have a definitive cause, these trials are crucial.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted global clinical trials towards COVID-19 treatments. Unfortunately, this has led to a neglect of other important research. It also emphasised issues with clinical trial research.
It highlights the importance of randomised trials and large-scale resources for the best results. There needs to be better collaboration and coordination to best understand research-based evidence.
Funding should be distributed in other low-resource regions. Here are some examples of complex diagnoses that need further clinical research:
- Bone pain
- Non-cancer-related pain
- Mental health illnesses
- And more
Often, challenging-to-treat diagnoses get the back burner to immediate concerns such as COVID-19. One way to bring back research to chronic pain sufferers is by encouraging and funding laboratories.
Government and private institutions can encourage collaboration with hospitals and universities. Facilitating research and utilising technology can drive better health care in the future.
Managing Chronic Pain
When looking at ways to manage chronic pain in the population, there are four main core values:
Since chronic pain is not a one-size-fits-all approach, high-quality products, care, and health systems are critical. These strategies should cater to different patients' lifestyles and needs.
Chronic pain management strategies typically fall under two major categories: pharmaceutical and holistic. There is a vast world between those two ends of the spectrum, so here is a more comprehensive list:
- Physical therapy
- Hot packs
- Medical cannabis
Ultimately, opioid misuse and abuse have led to global increases in overdoses and addictions. Opioid use disorder (OUD) has an increased risk for mortality, withdrawals, and other long-term complications.
Alternative pharmaceuticals and treatments can help with better chronic pain management. Often, these methods can be safer and have fewer side effects.
How to Improve Healthcare Delivery
The Australian government has recognised the current healthcare system has led to:
- Reduced access to adequate care
- Substandard quality
- Poor safety measures
What are some ways that Australia can improve healthcare delivery? Chronic pain management starts at the federal and state levels.
There is a disconnect with funding that could help many facilities and patients. This leads to poor health responses in non-COVID patients. Other ways Australia can help overcome challenges facing healthcare delivery are:
- Prevention and wellness promotion
- Better waste management
- Improved efficiency
- Better resource allocation
- Recognising social determinants of health
Experts suggest a symbiotic approach to healthcare inequality. Reallocating or distributing resources can best help these patients.
Finding Healthier Pain Management Techniques
Managing chronic pain for patients and providers has been a challenge for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped health systems and neglected many patients with other diagnoses. Yet, there are ways to reshape the system for better pain management.
At Medlab, we are focused on improving pharmaceutical delivery. We have focused our research on exploring healthier ways that patients and providers can manage chronic pain. If you are interested in learning more about our products, clinical trials, and research, contact us today or check out our website for more information!
About the author
Medlab in-house Editor.