“Chronic pain is the largest public health problem of our time.” Those are the words from Geralyn Datz, Ph.D, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in behavioral medicine and is the current President of the influential Southern Pain Society.
At their recent meeting in Orlando, Dr. Datz said there was a consistent theme among the one hundred primary care physicians, pain specialists, neurologists and psychologist that attended.
“We shouldn’t stay with the status quo when we treat chronic pain. The challenge is to think outside the box for the benefit of our patients.”
Dr. Datz said that the new information about chronic pain is from neuroscience which states that chronic pain becomes learned, and thus ingrained in the brain.
“The pain signal propagates itself in an unhelpful process that reinforces itself over time, leading to more pain, more disability, more depression and anxiety and less sleep over time,” she said. “It can become hard wired into the nerves.”
The result is that MRIs, nerve conductions studies or whatever the diagnostic test may not show a positive finding. The patient suffers, the physician isn’t sure how to treat it and the situation devolves. Millions of patients with disabling pain know well this vicious cycle. It’s beyond frustration.
Dr. Datz likens it to “torture.”
“The state of pain treatment today is a confusing landscape for patients,” she said.
But she is optimistic about the future.
Dr. Datz sees improvement in the interdisciplinary strategies used to treat chronic pain. She counts herself among a group of pain practitioners who believe that an intensive process that involves treatment of body and mind is necessary for a person to recover from chronic pain.
But she also understands that the patient is easily frustrated.
In fact, when we asked if she had any tips for a patient who wants to change his or her life, she offered this.
“I know pain patients. When they come into see me, they don’t want tips, she pointed out. “If they can’t get relief, they at least want someone to listen.”
So what does this confusing landscape hold for the pain patient? Dr. Datz sees two distinct things and plans to discuss these in regional and national meetings of her peers.
First, she wants to educate and remind medical providers that pain treatment is interdisciplinary and included the mental health of the chronic pain sufferer.
“There are evidence based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and integrated pain programs, that can vastly improve and sometimes reverse pain processes in chronic pain patients,” she said.
Secondly, she has her eyes on the insurance carriers.
“The second part of my platform is to include payers and carriers in the conversation of pain treatment. We must increase dialogue to improve understanding of chronic pain, and what it is like to treat pain patients, and show carriers that all pain providers are not unethical drug pushers.”
The confusion that exists for provider and patient alike can be addressed only if all the players are talking with each other.
“Knowing your patient and their preference was a main theme at the Southern Pain Society meeting,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Datz practices in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and will be president of the Southern Pain Society for the next year. She is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in behavioral medicine. She achieved a Top 1% Ranking among psychologists in the nation for customer satisfaction.
Here’s a recent National Pain Report story previewing the Southern Pain Society Meeting (click here)