For patients with chronic pain, photo elicitation on social networks may represent a novel way to get a better understanding of the lived experience of chronic pain, according to a study published in Pain Medicine. Facebook support groups in particular can provide an easily accessible platform for patients to share photos and experiences.

In this qualitative substudy of the intervention arm of a randomized trial, patients shared photos that exemplified their experience of living with chronic pain and discussed their experience. These photos and descriptions were shared in a “secret” Facebook, meaning that only invited participants could join. The group was co-facilitated by a moderator and a patient-investigator who has chronic pain. 

After joining the group, participants wrote an introductory post and were then asked to share photos that represented (1) their experience of living with chronic pain, (2) what mattered most to them in terms of health and functionality, (3) something their clinician had or had not done to address their needs, and (4) their goals in terms of functioning. The moderators guided participants in discussions about their photos. Dedoose, a qualitative analysis software, was used to analyze the Facebook discussions using thematic analysis.

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The participants’ discussions of photos centered around 3 major themes regarding living with chronic pain: (1) participant redefining pain identity, (2) how pain interfered with their enjoyment of life, and (3) participant inability to function.

“Images provide patients with a tangible object that could potentially break the verbal barrier that tends to exist between patients and clinicians when discussing how to treat chronic pain,” the researchers wrote. “These images help communicate a patient’s pain identity, how their pain interferes with their daily life, and their functional goals more powerfully than numbers could do alone.”

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Rolbiecki AJ, Teti M, Crenshaw B, LeMaster JW, Ordway J, Mehr DR. Exploring lived experiences of chronic pain through photo-elicitation and social networking [published online September 18, 2018]. Pain Med. doi:10.1093/pm/pny175.