Research to help ease pain of cancer patients

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Fall 17-5-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



Professor Jane Phillips, Professor of Palliative Nursing at Notre Dame’s Sydney School of Nursing and The Cunningham Centre for Palliative Care, has been awarded a $100,000 research grant to deliver novel online learning modules for clinicians working to improve the management of pain experienced by cancer patients.

Professor Phillips’ research proposal has been funded by the Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN), a member-based network formed to create an innovative and supportive environment for the translation of cancer research findings into improvements in patient care and outcomes.

Professor Phillips said she hopes her study, which begins in June, will help clinicians integrate best evidence based practice pain assessment and management strategies when caring for cancer patients, who may experience varying levels and types of pain throughout their journey from diagnosis to surgery, treatment and recovery.

“Even though we have a range of treatments and fabulous clinicians, quite often cancer patients still experience a lot of poorly managed pain,” Professor Phillips said.

According to Professor Phillips, some clinicians fail to correctly identify the source and level of a patient’s pain, can forget to document their findings, or do not adequately monitor the results of treatment they administer for pain. Compounding these issues, patients often see multiple health care providers, which can lead to confusion about who is treating the pain they experience.

“The complexity of cancer demands a team of professionals to treat it, but it’s the way in which the team interacts and passes on information about their patient that is the challenge,” Professor Phillips said.

“We need clinicians to be assessing their patients’ pain regularly and then responding accordingly. This small study is one facet of improving pain outcomes for patients, by targeting clinician knowledge, attitudes and behavior to improve pain assessment and management practices.”

Professor Phillips’ 12-month study aims to determine whether “Spaced Education”, a new form of online education delivering carefully crafted clinical questions and scenarios to participants via email over a 28-day period, is effective in changing the behavior of clinicians in how well they assess, respond to, document and treat pain experienced by cancer patients.

The trial aims to involve cancer care nurses and doctors working in five hospitals, ambulatory care, community care and inpatient facilities across New South Wales. Participants are emailed short, complex case scenarios every 48 hours, to which they respond in multiple choice or short answer format. Immediate feedback is provided to the responder, including links to further reading on the topic.

“By giving a relatively simple but targeted education, delivered in a novel format to busy clinicians, we hope to be able to improve patients’ pain outcomes as clinicians transfer their online learning into practice,” Professor Phillips said.

Spaced Education has proven effective in trials carried out at Harvard Medical School and at Sydney University. Professor Phillips said if this method of providing professional development to clinicians is successful in her upcoming trial, Spaced Education could be effectively utilised as part of other multifaceted interventions to deliver ongoing improvements to patient care across a myriad of health sectors.

“It is my aim to deliver a quality project, to engage clinicians, and improve practice, but whatever I do, what I’m most interested in, is making life better for patients and their families,” Professor Phillips said.

For further information please contact: Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407

E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au

W: www.nd.edu.au/