An  Australian study has suggested that people with chronic pain may be able to use online tools to manage their symptoms, lessening the need for frequent doctor visits.

Regardless of contact the patients had with clinicians, they all experienced significant reductions in disability, anxiety and average pain levels at the end of the 8-week experiment and 3 months down the line.

The research team recruited patients online, then broke the group down to 490 adults who had seen a doctor to assess their pain within the past 3 months, had no psychotic illnesses or severe depression and had regular access to a computer and the internet.

Participants were divided into one of three treatment groups to receive web-based tutorials along with regular contact with clinicians during the study, optional contact with providers or no contact.

Another control group was told they were wait-listed for the online program and carried on their usual treatment with their doctors.

At the end of the eight weeks, patients in the treatment groups had average reductions of at least 18% in disability, 32% for anxiety, 36% for depression and 12% in typical pain levels.

The improvements were sustained or even improved after 3 months, and there were no significant differences between the intervention groups based on how much contact people had with clinicians.

Also, people in the treatment groups had significantly greater reductions in disability, depression and anxiety than the patients wait-listed for the online courses.

Researchers however acknowledged that a limit in the study was the fact that researchers didn’t examine what therapies people received in the control group getting “treatment as usual,” which makes it impossible to know if people in that group would have recovered without any treatment.

They also noted that because all of the study participants asked to join a web-based symptom management program, it’s possible the results would be different among people not seeking out this type of care.