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Telephone-Delivered Interventions Reduce MS Symptoms by More than 50 Percent – findings show how telehealth can improve access to high quality healthcare

September 2, 2015

  • Two telephone-delivered interventions succeeded in reducing fatigue, pain, and depression in a study of 163 people with MS.
  • Further, this study yields new information on the dramatic success that can be achieved through telehealth, or telemedicine - the use of telecommunication and information technologies to provide health care at a distance. These are the type of innovative strategies being explored by the National MS Society to ensure that people with MS have access to comprehensive, high quality health care.
  • The study was reported by Dawn M. Ehde, PhD (University of Washington, Seattle) and colleagues in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Published Online: August 05, 2015).

Background: Pain, fatigue, and depression are some of the most common symptoms of MS. Self-management approaches have been shown to help people with chronic conditions reduce pain and other symptoms. “Self-management” refers to programs and strategies that enable people to monitor and manage their disease, its symptoms, and its consequences. The purpose of this study was to see if a self-management intervention, when delivered by telephone, could help reduce pain, depressed mood, or fatigue in people with MS, compared with an educational intervention, also delivered via telephone. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

The Study: Participants were randomly assigned to one of two interventions, both involving eight phone treatment sessions delivered by clinical psychologists or social workers. The self-management intervention included positive psychology strategies for helping participants self-manage pain, depression, and fatigue.  In the last session, the therapist and participant created a comprehensive post-treatment, self-management plan using the participant’s preferred skills and goals. The educational intervention did not include positive psychology strategies or the development of a self-management plan.

Both treatments involved educating participants about pain, fatigue, and depressed mood, and teaching different ways of managing these problems in hopes of reducing them and their impact on daily life. Every participant received 8 weekly therapy sessions (lasting 45-60 minutes) and follow-up phone calls at 4 weeks, 8 weeks, 6 months and 12 months post-treatment.

The results show that both interventions reduced symptoms by more than 50% - there was no statistically significant difference between them. Participants in the self-management group did report significantly higher satisfaction with the treatment, closer bonds with the therapist/social worker) and greater improvements in positive moods and social abilities. Improvements were maintained at 6 and 12 months post-treatment.

Conclusion: This study yields new information on the dramatic success that can be achieved through telehealth, providing important health care at a distance. This is particularly significant in terms of reaching people who do not live close to healthcare providers, or who have difficulty traveling for care, and the importance of connections in these circumstances.

These are the type of innovative approaches being explored by the National MS Society’s Work Team on Telehealth, part of our strategy to provide access to quality healthcare, information, resources, and connections to information, resources and others.

“This is just one of the ways that we can ensure that people with MS have ongoing support through innovations in healthcare delivery, no matter where they live,” says Timothy Coetzee, PhD, Chief Advocacy, Services & Research Officer, National MS Society.

Read more about the Society’s Access To High Quality MS Healthcare Principles
Learn how you can find support, no matter where you live

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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