A new study finds people with chronic pain who received counseling from a nurse over the phone were able to reduce their dose of pain medication.
The researchers say the findings suggest "telecare" could reduce the risk of prescription drug abuse and accidental overdoses.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included 250 veterans with chronic pain.
Half of the veterans received traditional pain care from their primary physician, and half received counseling from nurses via telephone and internet, NBC Los Angeles reports.
The nurses' goal was to reduce patients' pain medication doses, and in some cases to have them stop taking painkillers altogether, the article notes.
Telecare consisted of automated symptom monitoring and pain management counseling by a nurse care manager. Patients in the telecare group received interactive voice-recorded phone calls or online messages asking them about their pain, their reaction to medication and whether they wanted to speak with a nurse. They met with the nurse once in person, and then received phone counseling from the nurse throughout the study.
"Nearly twice as many that had the telecare intervention got better in terms of their pain over the course of the year," said study co-author Dr. Kurt Kroenke of the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. "On the other hand, twice as many people in the control, usual care group got worse during the course of the year."
HealthDay reports that after one year, more than half of the patients receiving telecare reported at least a 30 percent improvement in pain, compared with about one-quarter of those receiving usual care. Patients receiving telecare were about half as likely to experience an increase in pain after six months.
About three-quarters of patients receiving telecare rated their prescribed painkillers as good to excellent, compared with only half of patients in the usual care group.