$3 million grant to tackle the burden of chronic pain in Australia

The University of South Australia has won a $3 million Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Primary Health Care Research Initiative grant to address the quality of care and information provided to Australians who experience chronic pain.

Only 1 in 100 Australians living with chronic pain are able to access multidisciplinary pain management, and when they do, fewer than 20% of them receive best-practice care.

The UniSA project, EQUIPP (EQUIpping the general Public to prevent and overcome chronic Pain), is one of four MRFF projects from this round that will address chronic pain, out of a total of nine projects awarded – with UniSA the only South Australian university recipient.

Chief Investigator Professor Lorimer Moseley AO says the EQUIPP project is the next step in the team’s twenty-year research journey into the misconceptions that promote and sustain chronic pain, and how we can work with consumers and the community to shift these.

The project will implement a combined intervention in two rural communities, the Limestone Coast in South Australia, and Western Victoria.

“In terms of disability and economic impact, chronic pain is our biggest health care challenge,” Prof Moseley says.

“Our research has identified two modifiable barriers to reducing the immense chronic pain burden. First, the majority of health professionals do not have the necessary skills, confidence, resources and support to deliver the best treatments for chronic pain. Second, the broad public does not demand or expect the best treatments for chronic pain.

“So, we need to change consumer expectations and community norms, and equip health care professionals to deliver those treatments within the significant resource limitations facing rural Australia.”

The EQUIPP intervention will use educational content the team has developed over years of research with consumer and community groups to co-design educational strategies and deliver a ‘whole of community’ educational lifestyle program for people living with chronic pain.

It will draw on the collective expertise of the entire investigator team across the fields of pain, rural health, implementation science, quality use of medicines, health promotion and public messaging, health economics and biostatistics.

Project Manager Dr Louise Wiles says that pain education, delivered by multidisciplinary health practitioners in primary care, is recommended internationally as an integral component of best care for chronic pain. Despite this, care currently delivered to people with chronic pain is often characterised by inadequate provision of advice and education, inappropriate referral for imaging, and high rates of opioid prescription.

Dr Wiles says, “For rural areas, these patterns of care delivery are often accentuated. Our community consultations so far have told us that this is largely due to health professional workforce and skill shortages in rural areas”.

EQUIPP’s overall impact will be evaluated through a range of outcome measures.

“We will assess the quality of care provided and explore healthcare professionals’ and community perspectives on the intervention.” Dr Wiles says.

“For example, we’ll look at the volume of opioids dispensed, imaging rates, emergency department presentations and hospital admissions, and workdays lost due to chronic pain.”

“We will also evaluate people’s self-reported outcomes, such as their quality of life, pain-related knowledge, and physical function.

“Finally, we will undertake a cost-benefit analysis.”

The project will commence on 1 July 2024, and is expected to be completed by 30 June 2028.

/UniSA Release. View in full here.