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New grant brings together UW experts on pain and rural practitioners via telehealth

For immediate release
Date:   January 19, 2012
Contact:   Ashley Wiggin- Communications and Marketing Officer,, 206-221-2456

Poorly controlled pain is one of the most common reasons why people go to the emergency room according to Ardith Doorenbos, Associate Professor in Biobehavioral Nursing and principal investigator on a recent grant  on using technology in pain management.

 “What makes our project unique is the expert panel we have brought together and the need for this in Washington State with the new law on pain consultation,” said Doorenbos.

Ardith DoorenbosArdith Doorenbos

Doorenbos, with the assistance of Cara Towle, MSN, RN and Director of Telehealth Services at UW School of Medicine, received a grant last fall enabling them to create a telehealth service for rural healthcare providers to consult with a panel of pain experts remotely. Doorenbos notes the importance of telehealth in reaching rural settings, writing in the grant application that telehealth technologies can bridge geographic distance and increase access to specialist care in rural settings. According to Doorenbos, the benefits of tele-pain include: improved access to specialists; interdisciplinary consultation; dissemination of evidence-based practice;  capacity building of rural primary care practitioners; situated/case-based learning; and meeting the needs for continuing medical education required through Washington State Engrossed House Bill 2876 regarding long-acting opioid education.


Doorenbos notes that the model has already demonstrated success for practitioners, but it is too early to report on the patient outcomes.

 “We are hopeful that telehealth will provide better pain management in the patient population in the rural setting,” she said. “Overall, along with decreased pain severity, we would like to see less anxiety and depression among patients dealing with chronic pain. We also hope to see a reduction in hospitalizations and ER visits, which will lead to more cost-effective care delivery.”

Towle explains that the rural practitioners are excited to have the opportunity to work with pain management experts.

 “Some of the practitioners we’ve teleconferenced with have noted that they now have access to people they would never have access to otherwise,” said Towle.

While telehealth has been used for decades in Medicine, Doorenbos and her team began their efforts in 2006 with a series of educational programs. They tried different types of assessments early on which eventually led them to focusing on pain specifically. In September 2011, the team received two grants, an RO1 and an R42, funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health to support the creation of the current telehealth project.

The expert panel includes five specialists who meet weekly for an hour and a half to support pain case management, connecting with rural providers from around the state and region. The specialists include Dr. David Tauben and Dr. Anjana Kundu, the clinic leads and Associate professors in the Dept. of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine; Dr. Mark Sullivan, a full Professor in the Dept. Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences; Dr. Jim Robinson, Clinical Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine and Dr. Joseph Merrill, Acting Assistant Professor in the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute in the Department of General Medicine. The team meets weekly at the UWMC Roosevelt Clinic, where they hear 1-3 cases per session and support rural providers around the state.


The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently the nation’s No. 1-ranked nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service.