Issues Magazine

Social Media: Bringing Pain Management Learning to Health Care


RACGP, Faculty of Pain Medicine, the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists and Bupa Health Foundation

According to a recent Sensis report, 62% of internet users have a presence on social networking sites and Australians use social media on average 11–15 times a week. That’s more than once each day.

The Australian healthcare professional community uses social media just like the rest of Australia. A 2011 study by market research company UBM Medica found that 72% of healthcare professionals engaged with social media either for personal purposes (30%), professional (6%) or both (37%).

Most healthcare organisations, more health-based media and journalists, and opinion leaders now have social media profiles, allowing them to have direct conversations with peers, journals, journalists, other influencers and consumers.

With those realities in mind, in October 2012 the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Faculty of Pain Medicine, the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists and Bupa Health Foundation turned to social media to share news about an Active Learning Module for GPs, focusing on pain management.

Bupa Health Foundation’s 2007 study The High Price of Pain – The Economic Impact of Persistent Pain in Australia assessed the cost of persistent pain in Australia. The study established that the total cost of chronic pain is estimated to be $34.3 billion, or $10,847 per person.

We also know that up to 80% of people living with chronic pain are missing out on treatment that could improve their health and quality of life, and by 2050 more than five million Australians will be living with chronic pain.

In practice, pain management is complex because it crosses professional boundaries, from pain medicine to anaesthesia, psychiatry, general medicine, general practice and surgery to physiotherapy.

The new learning module, launched at the RACGP’s national conference, provides a great opportunity for GPs interested in furthering their education on the diagnosis and management of acute and chronic pain.

RACGP President, Dr Liz Marles, says the Active Learning Module is accessible, engaging, relevant – and an Australian first.

“The accredited online learning program provides primary healthcare professionals immediate access to the most recent evidence-based research and skills to help prevent transition from acute to chronic pain, and improve the quality of life and health for patients suffering pain,” Dr Marles said.

The program launch was shared with key media in pain management using microblogging site Twitter.

Tweets were picked up by key influencers in pain management, plus leading Australian health journalists and commentators, who then re-tweeted to their own followers, in turn stimulating online conversations between healthcare professionals and other interested people.

The impressions generated by Twitter reached 9452 and since launch a significant proportion of GPs have accessed the tool. There will be ongoing studies to monitor the effectiveness of the learning module.

The pain management Active Learning Module can be accessed via