By Peter Abaci, MD for WebMD
A lot has changed lately in how I work with my patients. The need for social distancing and sheltering at home has forced me to rethink the way I do just about everything.
I run two pain management centers that are interdisciplinary, meaning that there’s a team of different complementary specialties like physical therapy, psychology, and acupuncture, under one roof to serve our patients in a more integrated way. That also includes a special day program, where patients come in every day for several weeks and participate in a variety of classes that cover everything from exercise, to emotional wellbeing, to meditation and art therapy. I believe the team-building and camaraderie of bringing patients together has always been an important part of creating positive outcomes. Then, suddenly in March, we had to shut down many of these services that we provide.
In a short amount of time, my team rallied to start offering many of our treatments via telehealth, allowing our patients to start working with our psychologists, physical therapists, and even participate in group programs from their own homes.
Many of our patients have embraced participating in telehealth treatments and have appreciated the added support while cooped up at home during a stressful time. But for others, doing telehealth hasn’t really clicked, and we are starting to understand some of the hurdles. If you are interested in using telehealth to improve your pain management, here are some tips that may help:
- Create a Healing Space: Using apps at home or participating in online classes and support groups requires a place where you can think, interact, process, or move about. You need to feel safe in your space, with as little distraction as possible. With so many people spending so much time at home right now, finding your healing place may be harder to come by, and may require some negotiation with your house mates to give you your time and space for your health.
- Set Up a Pain Relief Calendar: Smartphones usually come equipped with a daily calendar for keeping track of appointments. Start to create your own structured schedule to help you stay on top of your pain and better navigate the day. Set aside time for things like stretching, meditation, online support groups, listening to music, or anything else that helps quell your pain. Putting these activities into your calendar can help you feel more accountable and less likely to forget.
- Increase Your Access: Telehealth can mean you can interact with your physician outside of the traditional in-person visit through avenues like web portals and video chatting, which can give you greater access to getting advice or questions answered. If you live in a more remote location or just don’t have some of the resources you would like, then telehealth can be a way to see specialists or therapists that you may not otherwise have access to. If you are interested in learning more about how diet can affect pain, then why not set up a telehealth visit with a nutritionist who is an expert on the subject?
- Try Not to Get Bogged Down: Sometimes just the setup of virtual treatments or therapies can be challenging, so consider getting help from a friend or family member who is a whiz with technology to avoid getting frustrated or turned off. For some patients, the overabundance of options can also be a hurdle. There is a vast selection of self-help apps that cover everything from exercise, to yoga, to meditation, to getting connected to social support groups, so diving in can feel overwhelming. Trust is key to any clinical setting, so finding just a few resources that you click with may be all you need – ask your doctor for recommendations.
Remember to talk to your physicians before starting any new treatments and keep them in the loop on how things progress.