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$1.5 million grant to help researchers address health inequities in chronic pain and depression

a Black man sits thoughtfully at a computer

INDIANAPOLIS—Researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine and Regenstrief Institute are addressing health inequities and empowering minoritized patients in the decision-making process, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Initiative.

The project, Equity Using Interventions for Pain and Depression (EQUIPD), works to address racialized disparities in chronic pain care for Black patients with comorbid chronic pain and depression.

“We want to empower minoritized patients to take more control of their chronic pain so they can effectively partner with their health care providers to manage their care,” said Marianne Matthias, PhD, senior research professor of medicine. “We want to make sure they are aware of the different options available and equip them with the tools they need to take advantage of those options collaboratively with their primary care provider.”

According to Matthias, Black patients often experience greater pain severity, worse pain outcomes and are offered fewer treatment choices than white patients. Depressive symptoms may also interfere with a patient’s ability to engage in and maintain pain self-management activities.

The project, a two-phase study taking place at Eskenazi Hospital, will use one-on-one coaching to foster motivation, help patients clarify their treatment goals and align these goals with nonpharmacological treatment options for pain, such as exercise or chiropractic care. Matthias said these treatment options are underused and are a helpful alternative to using opioids for chronic pain.

“This project is designed to help Black patients have more options for pain treatment, especially evidence-based, nonpharmacological treatments,” Matthias said. “We want to open up more possibilities to patients through coaching sessions focused on shared decision-making about nonpharmacological approaches to chronic pain management. Our goal is to empower patients to advocate for themselves and their preferences, then work together with their doctor to make the best decision for their particular needs, preferences and values.”

The project builds on the researchers’ previous work, funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was focused on helping Black veterans who experience chronic pain become more active participants in their treatment–helping them to advocate for themselves and know what questions to ask of their doctors. Now, the researchers are taking that further, helping patients consider treatments they may not have thought about before.

While this project is focused on the individual level, the team hopes their research will ultimately lay the groundwork for later intervention at the structural level, perhaps in clinics or health care systems. The second phase of their project will expand to a full, randomized trial of patients.

“Our goal is not just to do research,” Matthias said. “We hope to ultimately make a meaningful impact on people’s pain management and quality of life.”

Other IU researchers on the project include Adam Hirsh, PhD, Kevin Rand, PhD and Michelle Salyers, PhD, all of the IUPUI School of Science, and Nicole Fowler, PhD and Joanne Daggy, PhD of IU School of Medicine.

About IU School of Medicine

IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

About Regenstrief Institute

Founded in 1969 in Indianapolis, the Regenstrief Institute is a local, national and global leader dedicated to a world where better information empowers people to end disease and realize true health. A key research partner to Indiana University, Regenstrief and its research scientists are responsible for a growing number of major healthcare innovations and studies. Examples range from the development of global health information technology standards that enable the use and interoperability of electronic health records to improving patient-physician communications, to creating models of care that inform practice and improve the lives of patients around the globe. Sam Regenstrief, a nationally successful entrepreneur from Connersville, Indiana, founded the institute with the goal of making healthcare more efficient and accessible for everyone. His vision continues to guide the institute’s research mission.