Researchers from the Newcastle University are investigating the personal and financial impacts of persistent facial pain on patients in the UK, and what can be done to improve medical care for it. The source article can be read here, at the Newcastle University’s Press Office website.
About Persistent Facial Pain
Persistent facial pain is an umbrella term that can be caused by a variety of different underlying conditions. According to the linked article above, around 7% of the population are thought to suffer from persistent orofacial pain.
Persistent facial pain can have a large impact on people’s quality of life and may stop some people from being able to do certain activities. In addition to this, it comes with a significant financial cost, for the patient themselves, for the National Health Service, and from missed days at work and reduced productivity.
Research into Persistent Facial Pain’s Effects
To find out more about how persistent facial pain can affect people, and what healthcare providers can do to mitigate its effects, researchers carried out a study. 200 patients with long-term orofacial (face or mouth) pain filled in questionnaires twice per year for two years.
Analysis of these questionnaires showed that, on average, patients had nine medical appointments every six months. This was estimated to cost patients over £650 per year, due to factors such as the cost of travelling to and from appointments, and contributions to the cost of prescription medicines. There are also the costs of appointments and treatment, which are largely paid for by the National Health Service.
The researchers also estimated a loss for employers. Although patients reported only taking an estimated two days off work every six months, they said that they were affected by pain on average 35 days in the same period, which could affect their productivity. In total, researchers estimated that the annual cost to employers could be almost £2,500.
An Electronic Referral System
However, despite the large impact that persistent facial pain can have on people’s quality of life, and it’s significant financial costs, patients often struggle to reach a diagnosis and receive treatment.
To address this issue researchers at Newcastle University suggest that an electronic referral system could be used to streamline the diagnosis and treatment process. Under this plan, patients would be given a short questionnaire called the Graded Chronic Pain Scale. Based on the result of this, patients could be referred either to specialists right away or to a dentist or GP. This may help patients with the most severe levels of pain be treated more quickly.
A Patient Perspective
One patient that supports this proposed system is Joe, whose severe persistent facial pain first began affecting him ten years ago. It began when a wisdom tooth removal fractured his jaw, which then developed into a bone infection. However, he was unable to reach a diagnosis for a long time and ended up spending a lot of money on hospital trips. He says that he gave up his job as a teacher due to the debilitating pain – “I couldn’t do the job.” However, he also believes that a faster diagnosis might have prevented this.
Joe has received treatment now and is taking medication to reduce his pain. His says experiences have made him supportive of the researchers’ work, and that a new electronic referral system that prioritises patients with severe pain might help certain patients receive treatment sooner.