As recently as the 1980s, it was widely believed that infants did not experience pain. This not only meant limited management of pain, but also meant infants had surgery without any pain management. Fast-forward 40 years – while this harmful practice no longer exists, children’s chronic (i.e., pain lasting at least 3 months) and acute (i.e., sudden pain caused by injury, illness, medical procedure, etc.) pain remains undermanaged. It is well known that there are several negative outcomes of unmanaged pain in childhood that are physiological (e.g., lower efficacy of medication to manage pain), psychological (e.g., fear of medical procedures), and social (e.g., challenges with school attendance). There is also a great deal of evidence supporting simple yet effective practices for managing children’s pain, including psychological, physical, and pharmacological options. Despite all that is known about the consequences of pain and how to manage it, children’s pain remains poorly managed. Why is this the case?
Having scientific evidence is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing any health-related issue, children’s pain included; however, it is only part of the solution to create practice change. The other key piece is having strategies to put evidence into practice. Just as evidence does not generate itself, it does not mobilize itself, either. In fact, evidence may take as long as 17 years to impact change – in the context of children’s pain, this is an entire childhood that will go by where the latest research will not be reflected in a child’s care. This 17-year timeline represents a major health issue, as many cannot wait nearly two decades for care practices to update.
Knowledge mobilization (KM), or the practice of sharing and applying research evidence, is a key tool to address this issue. KM creates opportunities for researchers and others who produce knowledge to “think outside the box” when it comes to sharing knowledge. This means moving beyond traditional ways of sharing information, like publishing in academic journals that most people cannot access. KM asks knowledge producers to consider five important questions:
1. What do people need to know about your findings?
2. Who needs to know about them?
3. Where should they be made available?
4. When is the right time to share?
5. How can the information best be presented?
This approach to sharing knowledge encourages knowledge producers to consider a wide range of individuals who are impacted by knowledge. This not only includes researchers and health professionals, but also patients, their caregivers, policy makers, and more. KM creates a space for these different individuals to share their own lived experience to shape how these five questions, among countless others, are answered. When multiple perspectives are engaged, KM activities are more relevant and easier to integrate into practice.
Complex issues, such as the problem of children’s pain, require innovative solutions. It is essential to push the boundaries of how evidence is shared and applied so that health issues can be better managed. KM is more than just good communication – it’s good medicine.