More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, at a cost of $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report. As of Jan. 1, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started paying providers without formal training in pain medicine to diagnose and treat chronic pain.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) advises against receiving care from providers without training in treating chronic pain because patient safety can be seriously compromised. In addition to jeopardizing patient safety, untrained providers lower the quality of health care and can increase the risk for fraud and prescription drug abuse. Untrained providers lack the sufficient education and training needed to properly prescribe opioids, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Clifton Phillips, 44, of Bowie, Md., has pain throughout his body. He suffers from osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, a herniated disc and a pinched nerve in his lower back, which causes discomfort and burning in his foot. For three years Phillips worked through the pain before he sought help from an orthopedic doctor who prescribed opioid pain medications for him. However, Phillips soon became dependent upon the medication and suffered significant side effects.
Treatment of chronic pain is complex and can be associated with significant complications. This is due to the potential for severe side effects from some of the medications used to treat pain and the anatomy and delicate structure of the spine and nerves upon which many chronic pain interventions are performed. Knowing that he couldn’t sustain a successful lifestyle while taking the highly addictive opioid meds, Phillips looked for alternative treatment options through his neurologist who referred him to a highly trained anesthesiologist pain medicine physician.
“I encourage others suffering from chronic pain to do your due diligence, research your options and don’t be afraid to ask questions about treatments,” Phillips says. “I feel safe knowing a physician who specializes in pain not only safely administers my pain treatments, but also is able to diagnose and work with me to develop a customized and effective pain treatment plan.”
Specialized pain physicians have the education and training to accurately diagnose, evaluate and treat chronic pain patients using a comprehensive approach including medications and pain procedures. Treatments can range from medical management, physical therapy and psychological therapy, to interventional therapies and other alternative medical treatments. These therapies can be risky and require the skill of anesthesiologists or other physicians who possess the training and knowledge to provide safe, competent and appropriate care. These physicians complete a one-year multidisciplinary pain fellowship in addition to their post-doctoral training, according to ASA. A pain physician, like an anesthesiologist, is a patient’s best solution to finding a well-trained provider to treat chronic pain conditions, similar to what Phillips was experiencing.
Dr. John F. Dombrowski, an anesthesiologist pain medicine physician and executive director at the Washington Pain Center in Washington, D.C., began giving Phillips steroid injection therapy for a month. Today, Phillips is completely off opioid pain medications and reports the burning in his foot subsided, making him a happier person.
“I look forward to being more spontaneous and enjoying my life – I believe with these treatments, this could become a reality,” he says.
To learn more about pain treatment, visit physician-paincare.com.