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Telehealth and Rural-Urban Differences in Receipt of Pain Care in the Veterans Health Administration.

Chen JA, DeFaccio RJ, Gelman H, Thomas ER, Indresano JA, Dawson TC, Glynn LH, Sandbrink F, Zeliadt SB. Telehealth and Rural-Urban Differences in Receipt of Pain Care in the Veterans Health Administration. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.). 2022 Mar 2; 23(3):466-474.

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OBJECTIVE: Examine changes in specialty pain utilization in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) after establishing a virtual interdisciplinary pain team (TelePain). DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: A single VHA healthcare system, 2015-2019. SUBJECTS: 33,169 patients with chronic pain-related diagnoses. METHODS: We measured specialty pain utilization (in-person and telehealth) among patients with moderate to severe chronic pain. We used generalized estimating equations to test the association of time (pre- or post-TelePain) and rurality on receipt of specialty pain care. RESULTS: Among patients with moderate to severe chronic pain, the reach of specialty pain care increased from 11.1% to 16.2% in the pre- to post-TelePain periods (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 1.37, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.26-1.49). This was true of both urban patients (aOR: 1.62, 95% CI: 1.53-1.71) and rural patients (aOR: 1.16, 95% CI: 0.99-1.36), although the difference for rural patients was not statistically significant. Among rural patients who received specialty pain care, a high percentage of the visits were delivered by telehealth (nearly 12% in the post-TelePain period), much higher than among urban patients (3%). CONCLUSIONS: We observed increased use of specialty pain services among all patients with chronic pain. Although rural patients did not achieve the same degree of access and utilization overall as urban patients, their use of pain telehealth increased substantially and may have substituted for in-person visits. Targeted implementation efforts may be needed to further increase the reach of services to patients living in areas with limited specialty pain care options.

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