Chronic pain study to serve as health care tool

Today kicks off a chronic pain study in Washington County in partnership with West Virginia University Medicine’s Department of Orthopedics.

The study begins with a six-week series of workshops where participants will learn about acute versus chronic pain, brain chemistry and pain, the importance of sleep and how to manage fatigue, depression management, healthy eating and communication skills with loved ones and health care providers.

“This is an evidence-based program and what we already know is that the outcomes achieved last three months post-workshops,” explained Court Witschey, director of population health at the Washington County Health Department. “Now we’re studying if the outcomes of these classes will last six months and up to a year…whether the decreased pain, increased vitality, life satisfaction and confidence in what we can physically do continues longer-term.”

Participants in the program were required to be over 18 years old and were screened through Monday for admittance into the study’s two spring workshops occurring weekly on either Tuesday evenings or Thursday mornings.

The same workshops will be held in the fall, all at the county health department, said Witschey.

“We know we have a lot of residents especially in Washington County who are dealing with chronic pain and we have an abnormally high rate, higher than the national and state rates of preventable hospital stays,” he added. “This could definitely help reduce preventable hospital stays, plus we know a lot of addicts have become addicted first to what they’ve been prescribed pharmaceutically. While this isn’t a complete alternative to medication and medical care hopefully it lets folks know more about what they can do to mitigate chronic pain rather than just taking a pill.”

Witschey said the program will hold classes for participants once per week for 2.5 hours each class.

But outside the university study, Washington County Health Commissioner Dick Wittberg said the workshops also help model a framework for continued health education in the community.

“Being a part of a university study where we can track the impact over time will be an incredible tool,” said Wittberg. “But it will also influence what else we can offer here. I can see a whole different way of that working with insurers to identify patients who could really benefit from these classes and could be motivated to come.”

Wittberg said he’s excited to see the program modeled with the study and anticipates then continuing the education with classes offered in partnership with insurers like United Health.

“That way we can have a bigger impact as well,” said Wittberg.

At a glance:

• WVU Medicine and the Washington County Health Department launched a chronic pain management program this week.

• The program tracks the implementation of learned behaviors and pain management strategies over a six-week education course, followed by university tracking over the next year.

• The program will also influence further chronic pain management offerings by the county health department.

Source: Washington County Health Department and WVU Medicine.

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