Transforming the Way Chronic Pain Is Treated

Author: Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor

Every year, at least 116 million adults in the United States experience chronic pain, a condition that is often preventable or could be better managed, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine.

The report calls for coordinated, national efforts to create a cultural transformation in how the nation understands and approaches pain management and prevention.

"Given the large number of people who experience pain and the enormous cost in terms of both dollars and the suffering experienced by individuals and their families, it is clear that pain is a major public health problem in America," said committee chair Philip Pizzo, MD, of Stanford University School of Medicine. "All too often, prevention and treatment of pain are delayed, inaccessible, or inadequate. Patients, health care providers, and our society need to overcome misperceptions and biases about pain. We have effective tools and services to tackle the many factors that influence pain and we need to apply them expeditiously through an integrated approach tailored to each patient."

A new analysis undertaken as part of the study finds that the medical costs of pain care and the economic costs related to disability days and lost wages and productivity amount to at least $560 billion to $635 billion annually. Because the range does not include costs associated with pain in children or military personnel, it is believed to be a conservative estimate.

The report emphasized that although pain is universal, it is experienced uniquely by each person, and treatment—which often requires a combination of therapies and coping techniques—must be tailored. It also pointed out the following: Finally, the report calls on Medicare, Medicaid, workers' compensation programs, and private health plans to find ways to cover interdisciplinary pain care. Individualized care requires adequate time to counsel patients and families, consultation with multiple providers including pharmacists, and often more than one form of therapy. Current reimbursement systems, however, are not designed to efficiently pay for this kind of approach and health care organizations are not set up for integrated patient management.

To access the report, click here.