Strategies for Talking with Health Professionals

MARCH 01, 2005

Judith A. Paice, PhD, RN, a member of the American Chronic Pain Association's advisory board, has outlined strategies for patients with chronic pain to use when talking with physicians, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, and other health care providers. Many individuals with chronic pain have vast experience with the health care system. Describing pain history in a thorough and chronological manner may be difficult, particularly if the individual is nervous about meeting a new physician. Here are strategies to help patients:

•Record pain history: Write down the events that led to the chronic pain, as well as surgeries or other therapies that have been used to treat the pain and the dates they occurred. Also, carefully describe the pain (eg, location, intensity) and list the medicines, nerve blocks, physical therapies, and other interventions used to manage the pain.

•Bring all the current medications: Take pill bottles, patches, creams, and any other medications currently being taken or used, as well as OTC medicines, vitamins, and herbal therapies.

•Bring x-rays, computed tomography scans, magnetic resonance imaging, and other scans: Take the actual scans, not just the radiologist's report. This allows the physicians to make their own interpretation of the findings.

•Make a list of questions: For example, what is the cause of the pain? What strategies might help relieve the pain?

•Bring a friend or family member to the physician's office: A second set of ears is very important when complex medical information may be discussed. Also, a friend or family member can help remember the physician's recommendations.

•Mentally prepare for the visit: Seeing a new physician for chronic pain is an occasion filled with hope and optimism for a possible cure. Yet, relaying the history of the pain and the attempts at finding relief can be emotionally trying. Do not be surprised if tears of frustration and sadness start to flow.