Published 29 July 2022
Some people suffering from chronic pain can now have their conditions managed remotely, after East Kent Hospitals became the fourth Trust in the country – and the first in London and the south east - to launch a new virtual clinic.
It means people who use an Abbott spinal cord stimulator, sometimes referred to as a pain pacemaker, to manage their pain can have the devices adjusted by clinicians without the need to come into hospital.The pioneering technology uses a secure video chat feature in a dedicated app to connect the patient to their medical team, who can adjust the settings of the device remotely.
Mark Davies, 48, from Canterbury, is one of the first patients to benefit from the service. His spinal cord stimulator, a small device like a pacemaker implanted beneath the skin and attached to two wires that lead to the spinal cord, was fitted last month. It has finally relieved the nerve pain from a spinal injury he suffered in a motorbike crash 17 years ago.
Mark, who worked as a farmer before his accident, said: “The remote reprogramming sounds a lot easier than having to come to the hospital every time the device needs to be tweaked, and it will also free up appointments so more people can benefit.
“I am very independent and I drive, so it’s not too difficult for me to get to the hospital, but for other people I know it can be a bit of an ordeal.
“I had no expectations before the spinal cord stimulator was fitted, because I have tried so many different things before, but it has been a huge improvement.
“Before I had it fitted, I was popping pills like sweets and I only slept an hour each night. Now I sleep like a baby and I have been able to halve the dose of the medication.”
Mum of two Tracey Duffy, from Ash, also welcomed the new remote clinic.
She said: “Sometimes a re-programming appointment could take out a whole day, with the travel time and waiting, and then recovering from the impact of that when you are living with chronic pain.
“But now I can do it all while I’m sitting at home, which is amazing. It couldn’t be easier to use – I just have to push a button to connect and then let the team work their magic.”
Tracey’s spinal cord stimulator was fitted in September after she was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, affecting her left foot and ankle.
She said: “Before I had the device, I was in constant, constant pain. Some days I wouldn’t even get dressed; I would just get out of bed, take painkillers, and go back to bed.
“The difference since having it is huge. I’ve been able to spend time looking after our horses, which is heaven, and do things like weeding the garden, which would have been impossible before.
“I’ve had it reprogrammed twice so far so now that can all be managed from home it’s fantastic.”
Specialist pain nurse Tina Elliott said the team were always looking to harness the latest technology for the benefit of patients.
She said: “Being able to offer remote reprogramming of these devices really is a game-changer for our patients.“It means they can avoid unnecessary trips to hospital but still allows us to make sure their spinal cord stimulators are providing the most effective relief and are adjusted to their needs.”
The Trust has specialist pain clinics at the Kent and Canterbury, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and William Harvey Hospitals, offering a range of treatments, and cases are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team including expert nurses, a psychologist, occupational therapist and consultants.