Research seeks to ease pain in dying cancer patients

Holding handsDying can be painful for the terminally ill, but Diana Wilkie believes it doesn’t have to be.

Wilkie, professor of biobehavioral health science and Harriet Werley endowed chair for nursing research, was awarded a three-year, $1.853 million contract to study pain experienced by cancer patients receiving care in hospice.

The research is funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. The organization helps people make informed health care decisions and improves health care by providing evidence-based information from research guided by patients, caregivers and the health care community.

Patients in the study will receive care from two Chicago-area hospices, Horizon Hospice & Palliative Care and Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care.

Wilkie, whose work focuses on end-of-life, palliative care and informatics research, will use a computer application she helped develop, PAINRelieveIt, so patients can self-report their symptoms using a touch-screen on a portable tablet. Results are relayed to medical practitioners who then provide pain management recommendations.

“This takes some of the pressure off health care professionals, because the patients are the experts on how they feel,” Wilkie said. “The nurses can now devote more time interpreting the data so they can provide the patient with the proper medication to help them with their pain.”

In addition to the pain tools, the computer program includes a multimedia educational component tailored to the patient and the lay caregiver’s needs for pain management information.

“Better pain management will provide both the patient and family members with more quality time in their end-of-life transition,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie’s research evolved from her clinical experience as a hospice nurse and oncology clinical nurse specialist, where pain was an enormous problem.

Her collaborators include Robert Molokie, professor of medicine, Z. Jim Wang, professor of biopharmaceutical sciences, and Miriam Ezenwa, assistant professor of biobehavioral health science, all at UIC; Mary Runge, president of Horizon Hospice & Palliative Care, and Patricia Ahern, president and chief executive officer of Rainbow Hospice.

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