National and state experts in the field of pain management discussed topics ranging from patient and prescriber perspectives on pain to the state of pain management in Georgia at the Georgia Pain Initiative’s recent conference, “Connecting Pain Management Policy and Practice to Serve Our Communities.”
The Georgia Pain Initiative was founded to improve the quality of life of Georgia’s children and adults affected by pain through education, advocacy, public policy and the promotion of excellence in clinical practice. It is a project of the American Cancer Society and is a member of the Alliance for State Pain Initiatives. The Georgia Pain Initiative is led by a steering committee that includes representatives from the Georgia Composite Board of Medical Examiners, Georgia Association of Health Plans, Georgia Cancer Coalition, Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, and the American College of Physicians, along with physicians, pharmacists, nurses, social workers and caregivers
The GPI was instrumental in helping improve Georgia’s national pain policy grade, issued by the University of Wisconsin’s Pain and Policy Studies Group, from a D+ to a B in one year. The work of GPI has received commendation from Governor Sonny Perdue and recognition nationally from the Alliance of State Pain Initiatives.
Featured speakers at the day-long conference on May 18 included national speakers Scott M. Fishman, M.D., chief of the division of Pain Medicine and professor of anesthesiology at the University of California, Davis; Rebecca Kirch, associate director of policy, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; Aaron Gilson, MS, MSSW, Ph.D., director of U.S. Program, Pain and Policy Studies Group, University of Wisconsin; and June L. Dahl, Ph.D., Alliance of State Pain Initiatives, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Expert presenters from Georgia included Kelly Erola, M.D., chief medical director, Hospice Savannah; Steven House, M.D., Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, Mercer University School of Medicine; and Sarah Leahy, RN, Clinical Operations Manager of the Center for Pain Relief Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
Speakers said some key barriers to pain control are fear, misperceptions and confusion on the part of physicians and patients about addiction, dependence and pain medicines; lack of knowledge among patients and their families; and insufficient training for healthcare professionals.
They also said physicians are often reluctant to prescribe pain medications or renew prescriptions because they are unaware of what laws and policies allow and fear possible investigations and legal consequences.
“The stories that you read and hear about are the ones where a doctor has prescribed opioids or other medications for a patient and the results have been negative,” Gilson said. “Those rare cases are the ones that make the news. Stories of patients suffering pain most often don’t make the news. We don’t hear about the cases where patients are in constant pain because their physicians are worried about the possible consequences of prescribing opioids and other medications.”
Ms. Kirch pointed to a pain research survey conducted among Georgia physicians to gauge their knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding pain management. All physicians licensed in Georgia received the written survey, and 12 percent responded.
The survey also pointed to a communications gap between physicians and their patients. According to the survey, 58 percent of patients say they are asked regularly by their doctors about their pain levels, while 93 percent of physicians say they regularly ask about and assess pain.
Addressing pain in cancer patients, Ms. Kirch said, “Patients should not accept pain as a normal part of cancer. Controlling pain is part of quality cancer treatment.”
The Georgia Pain Initiative is now offering “Pain Management: Providing Effective Treatment for Your Patients,” a one-hour training designed for medical residents, nursing students and pharmacy students. The course addresses myths and misconceptions about treating pain; proper assessment of pain; pharmacological treatments, including opioid use; treating chronic and disease-related pain; and pain in palliative care. For more information on this training; for resources and information about pain management; or to become involved in the work of the Georgia Pain Initiative, please visit the website at www.georgiapaininitiative.org or contact Brittany Freeman at (404) 949-6495.