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Robert Kerns, PhD

Senior Research Scientist

Research Summary

Research is broadly in the area of behavioral medicine with specific interests in fields of pain and pain management. He is one of three directors of the Yale-based NIH-DOD-VA Pain Management Collaboratory Coordinating Center that supports and learns from eleven pragmatic clinical trials of non-pharmacological approaches to pain management in military and Veteran health systems. Dr. Kerns was founding director of the Pain Research, Informatics, Multimorbidities, and Education (PRIME) Center funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and based at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System that emphasizes the conduct of pain-relevant health services research that can inform policy, practice, and educational initiatives. The development of quality indicators for pain management is an overarching focus of research in this area. Several funded research projects are designed to evaluate the efficacy of self-management interventions for persistent pain including novel interventions that employ telehealth and other technologies to promote access and sustainability. Research informed by a motivational model of pain self-management explores moderators and mediators patient participation and outcomes and processes of change during these interventions.

Additional focuses include research related to the interface between pain and overweight/obesity, patient preferences for pain treatment, racial/ethnic and gender differences in the experience of pain and disparities in pain treatment, pain and prescription substance abuse, and medical and psychiatric comorbidities of pain.

Extensive Research Description

  • NIH-DoD-VA Pain Management Collaboratory Coordinating Center. The Coordinating Center supports and learns from the refinement and enactment of eleven pragmatic clinical trials of non-pharmacological approaches to pain management being conducted in military and Veteran health systems. Seven work groups focus on Biostatistics and Study Design, Phenotypes and Outcomes, Electronic Health Records, Stakeholder Engagement, Ethics and Regulatory Issues, Data Sharing and Implementation Science.
  • Pain Care Quality and Integrated and Complementary Health Approaches. Using Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, this project develops the first automated measure of Pain Care Quality derived from primary care provider progress notes and subsequently validates the measure by examining its association with use of complementary and integrative health approaches and implementation of the stepped care model of pain management. The project is jointly funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) Service and the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
  • Musculoskeletal Diagnosis (MSD) Cohort: Examining pain and pain care in the VA. This VA HSR&D funded study examines sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, clinical care and costs of care of a cohort of over 5.4 million veterans with MSD.
  • Pain Research, Informatics, Multimorbidities, and Education (PRIME) Center: This VA Health Services R&D Center is funded to build capacity for pain-relevant health services research at VA Connecticut and Yale University.
  • Integrative Management of chronic Pain and OUD for Whole Recovery. This NIH/NIDA sponsored project focuses on clinical trials and related research aimed at developing and testing novel integrated treatments for persons with lived experience of chronic pain and opioid misuse or opioid use disorder.


Research Interests

Ethics; Health Services Accessibility; Health Services Research; Professional-Patient Relations; Quality of Health Care; Healthcare Disparities; Psychiatry and Psychology

Research Image

Selected Publications