Pain psychology trial yields promising results for patient treatment times | Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand | Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty

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Pain psychology trial yields promising results for patient treatment times

12 October 2021

A New Zealand-first trial, looking at the psychology of pain, has shown promising results in helping reduce patient treatment times.

Pain psychology trial yields promising results for patient treatment times
(from left) Clinical Nurse Specialist Scott Jones, Specialist Nurse April Hylton, Intern Health Psychologist Sheralee Wootton and Director of Acute Pain Service Dr Paul Wilson

The trial of a Health Psychologist working in a ‘non-mental health’ setting at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) has been described as a great success. Pain Service Clinical Nurse Specialist Scott Jones’s idea that patients and staff could greatly benefit from in-house psychology expertise prompted the initiative.

“We noticed that inpatient pain services are increasingly involved in the management of complex patients,” said Scott. “Many patients in the Acute Pain Service rounds were either struggling emotionally with their pain and/or with the diagnosis they had received.

“Our goal was to improve patients’ mental and physical wellbeing with regards to pain management. Having an Intern Health Psychologist on daily acute pain rounds has helped not only the patients, but the staff also.”

Massey University assisted the trial by providing an Intern in their final year in the Postgraduate Diploma in Psychological Practice (PGDipPsychPrac). And BOPDHB Psychologist and Professional Lead for Psychology Julie Carvell provided advice and guidance to ensure the Intern had a suitable supervisor and collegial support from the Psychology team.

In February of this year, Psychology Intern Sheralee Wootton was welcomed into the Acute Pain Service (APS). Sheralee says that after seven months in the role she understands pain much better.

“What I have learned throughout this year is that healing is not linear; patients want timelines and medicine optimisation, but the body doesn't always comply. This is where knowledge of health, pain, and analgesic medication can be utilised,” she explains.

“A Psychologist can provide psychoeducation, support effective communication between the patient and their team, and reduce a patient's time spent in hospital through mobilisation of their pain-related cognitions and behaviours. My role as an Intern Psychologist in the Acute Pain Service is part of the inquiry into making sense of a patient’s cognitions and pain behaviours.”

The dedicated position of a Psychology Intern role has provided needed support to patients and whānau. Staff within the service now consult with Sheralee on optimal ways of interacting with specific patients, interpersonal approaches and responding to patient needs/barriers to care.

The successful trial has been described as one involving a great idea, a lot of patience, and cross services collaboration, which has helped reduce patient treatment times with the use of effective therapeutic interventions.