Not-for-profit Chronic Pain Australia calls on government to make telehealth consultations available on an ongoing basis after December 2021 as the consumer advocacy group releases the findings of its annual National Pain Survey to mark National Pain Week 2021.

Key findings of the 2021 National Pain Survey include:

  • 67% of survey respondents experienced a benefit from the pandemic pivot to telehealth
  • Respondents mentioned that they no longer had to miss a GP or other specialist appointment because of not being able to drive due to pain, distance, and costs associated with travel
  • 55% said they would consider using telehealth options with their health practitioner in an ongoing capacity

The 2021 National Pain Survey, completed by 2233 people living with chronic pain nationwide, has found that the pandemic pivot to telehealth gave respondents better access to their health practitioners. 76% of respondents used telehealth to meet with a GP, specialist, or other health practitioner in 2020. Of these, 67% reported experiencing a benefit from using telehealth. Respondents mentioned benefits such as being able to see health practitioners on days when they were experiencing pain, as there was no need to travel, and being able to rest instead of leaving the house for appointments on days off.

Other than their GP, respondents accessed a range of health professionals using telehealth, including: physiotherapists (10%), pain specialists (22%), psychologists (20%) and psychiatrists (8%).

Technology was not a major barrier to accessing telehealth, with 85% reporting they had a good internet connection and 82% saying they had the technology they needed to engage with their practitioner through telehealth. Instead, barriers included lack of willingness on the part of the healthcare provider to offer telehealth consultations, or their unsuitability to some types of physical therapy, such as acupuncture, massage and physiotherapy. Respondents also lamented that the telehealth option was taken away by government when case numbers fell. 55% said they would consider continuing to use telehealth options with their health practitioner in an ongoing capacity, if they were available.

President of Chronic Pain Australia Alexandra Hordern said, “It is wonderful to see an unexpected silver lining emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. 3.4 million Australians live with some form of chronic pain and this simple change could help them better access the medical treatment they need to manage their pain. We urge governments to consider making bulk-billed telehealth appointments available long-term.” Key figures from the 2021 National Pain Week Survey (quotes and detail in attached report):

  • Chronic Pain sufferers think 50% of GPs support them well with their pain
  • Almost 50% of chronic pain sufferers have experienced significant barriers in regard to access to opioid-based medication
  • 77% of people living with chronic pain find utilising health professional support unaffordable
  • More than half of the participants feel like they are stigmatised because they have chronic pain and this was more apparent in the workplace
  • 80% of chronic pain sufferers think that is important for the public to understand what it is like to live with chronic pain
  • Almost 40% of chronic pain sufferers have spoken to their GP about accessing medicinal cannabis for pain management
  • 76% of participants have utilised telehealth to meet with a GP
  • 67% of participants benefit from using telehealth
  • 81% of participants feel that they have all the technology required to engage with a practitioner through telehealth
  • Over 55% of participants would consider using telehealth in an ongoing capacity

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