Pinpointing pain

Diana Wilkie

Diana Wilkie: Research findings help clinicians reduce patients’ pain. Photo: David Shuey

Diana Wilkie can’t alleviate all the suffering in people’s lives, but she’s working to reduce their physical pain.

Through the use of computer technology she developed, patients suffering from sickle cell disease, cancer and other illnesses can show health care professionals precisely where the pain in their body is located and how it feels.

Wilkie, professor and Harriet H. Werley endowed chair for nursing research, has also done groundbreaking research on end-of-life care. To help medical professionals assist patients who are near death, Wilkie led a research team that created an electronic tool for teaching end-of-life care.

Since 2001, more than 12,000 CDs of TNEEL (Toolkit for Nursing Excellence at End of Life Transition) have been provided to nurse educators and medical school faculty in the U.S., Canada and Taiwan, where it was translated into Chinese. The materials were expanded into a web-based self-study course and an advanced practice palliative care program for nurses and other health professionals.

Wilkie’s early research examined pain behaviors in people with advanced cancer. She identified 42 different pain control behaviors that patients used to prevent the onset of their pain or reduce its intensity — many not previously identified.

The findings led Wilkie to develop the PAINRelieveIt program, where patients use a touch-screen computer to describe their pain. The information is used by clinicians to prescribe pain control and document pain in the medical records. The data also generates multimedia educational materials tailored to the individual patient’s needs, also delivered via computer.

Wilkie and her colleagues are studying the effectiveness of PAINRelieveIt and online education for patients with sickle cell. The researchers were the first to find that many adults with sickle cell disease may have neuropathic pain, not easily treated with morphine-like drugs. They are using sophisticated nerve testing to study sickle cell pain and test more effective medications.

Wilkie played an integral role when the College of Nursing obtained nearly $2.5 million in federal funds to create the UIC Center of Excellence for End-of-Life Transition Research.

Her work has been continuously funded for 26 years, receiving more than $30 million in research grants. She received the First Annual Research Award of the National Hospice Foundation and the Pinnacle Award for Computer-Based Professional Education technology, among other awards. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing and a member of the Institute of Medicine.

“I know the University Scholar award is an individual honor, but I’m just one part of a great research team that performs excellent research at UIC,” Wilkie said.

“This is a big honor, and I accept it on behalf of my colleagues.”

Other University Scholars:

Michael Cho tinkers with biology

Vladimir Gevorgyan simplifies complexities

E. Douglas Lewandowski focuses on the heart

Constantine Megaridis changes interactions

Janet Richmond breaks ground

David Ucker tells tales of dead cells

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