UA awarded research grant to study chronic pain management



The University of Alabama is set to receive a $1.27 million research award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study different psychosocial treatments for chronic pain management.

Beverly E. Thorn, chair of the UA psychology department, will lead the research project and said the research contract will support a study comparing two psychosocial treatments for chronic pain: cognitive-behavioral therapy compared to pain education groups in individuals with low income and possibly low literacy.

“These two treatment groups will be compared to medical treatment, as usual, to see if the addition of either or both psychosocial treatments can facilitate a better outcome in these patients,” Thorn said.

According to the Institute of Medicine, 116 million people have some chronic pain condition in the United States. Joshua C. Eyer, a research psychologist for the project, said the problem is individuals with few financial resources and low health literacy have little access to cognitive-behavioral treatments for their chronic pain.

“The problem extends to medical education literature, such as that produced for chronic pain conditions, that is usually written at a reading level that exceeds the literacy level of the average American,” Eyer said. “As a result, many chronic pain patients end up with insufficient knowledge about their condition and ways to manage it and have few options for seeking additional information or psychological treatment.”

The PCORI grant was awarded to 25 researchers out of 480 who applied, Thorn said. PCORI is a nonprofit organization funded by the Affordable Care Act. All applicants were required to submit a letter of intent prior to applying, and the formal application was reviewed by two sets of scholarly reviewers prior to the award.

“The project is one of only 25 funded by PCORI in their first cycle, and the only funded project in Alabama,” Eyer said. “PCORI is funded through ObamaCare and is designed to promote research that will provide patients and providers with key information about health care options.

“This project was selected because it partners with Whatley Health Services Inc., to provide a new pain intervention that will provide important, valuable information to patients and their health care providers about multiple treatments for chronic pain.”

Eyer said the research group anticipates the resulting interventions will help patients manage their chronic pain better and be available quickly, easily and cheaply for using in similar clinics around the country.

“The study provides a model for how to conduct clinically important research in partnership with the community and how to adapt cognitive therapy for individuals who may be excluded from its benefits due to existing barriers to treatment,” he said.

Eyer said the grant will fund the three-year project and allow Thorn and researchers to create easier and sustainable ways to provide patients with resources such as MP3 devices and audio recordings that repeat each week’s main ideas and also provide training in stress management techniques.

“The adaptations made to facilitate understanding of the cognitive aspects of the treatments are a new and potentially influential method of providing cognitive therapy to individuals with less education attainment,” he said. “This is exciting research that I find professionally and personally fulfilling.”

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