Effective and safe pain management is a major health priority for the US healthcare system. Pharmaceutical interventions remain the primary approach to pain management, despite their well documented risk of adverse events, potential for addiction, and adverse impact on recovery if used excessively. Nowhere is this more evident than in the post-operative period where roughly 80% of patients report moderate to severe pain after surgery even after receiving pharmaceutical interventions. In inpatient settings, finding an effective non-pharmacologic intervention to augment narcotic medications would be a significant benefit. National surveys indicate that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) interventions are currently used by 15% of American hospitals. Most often, these therapies are employed to address specific unmet clinical needs, the most frequent of which is pain. Eleven clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of CAM therapies to reduce pain (short- and long-term) in hospitalized patients along with traditional pharmaceutical interventions. Generating additional evidence of the effectiveness of these therapies for pain relief would advance knowledge and potentially affect practice patterns. In a preliminary study, we retrospectively studied 1,837 patients who received CAM therapies at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. We found an average reduction in immediate pain of 56% and roughly 33% reported complete pain relief after the initial CAM visit. We recognize inadequacies of this study that limit both our knowledge of how adjunctive CAM therapies are implemented in hospitals and the effect of various CAM therapies on pain management, which can only be answered with prospective data collection. Using a prospective, observational design, we propose a large scale study to build on this exploratory work. It will document predictors of CAM referral, service delivery, and therapy selection for pain management. It will also examine the impact of CAM therapies as adjuncts to traditional interventions on short and long-term changes in pain across clinical groups in a hospital setting. The setting for this study of CAM is the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. The George Institute is uniquely suited for this work as it is the nation's largest inpatient CAM program serving over 19,000 patients since 2004. The proposed study has 3 aims: 1) quantitatively describe a model for delivering CAM therapies to understand selection of patients and CAM therapies for pain management, 2) examine the effects of selected CAM therapies on immediate change in pain, and 3) examine the effects of selected CAM therapies on duration of pain change. Positive results from this study will assist hospitals in the integration of usual care and CAM therapy for pain reduction. Findings may also drive future research on the cost effectiveness of these therapies for pain management, as well as impact on patient outcomes such as length of stay and use of narcotics.

Public Health Relevance

The economic cost of the healthcare expense, lost income, and lost productivity due to pain suffering is estimated to be $100 billion per year. While current pain management guidelines emphasize narcotic use, drug utilization does not always adequately reduce pain and can frequently increase adverse events. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for pain management have demonstrated potential value in reducing pain, but evidence for the practical use of these therapies is lacking;to address this, we propose a prospective, observational study evaluating the effectiveness of CAM for pain management in an acute care inpatient hospital.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1 (50))
Program Officer
Weber, Wendy J
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Allina Health System
United States
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