Achieving Optimal Patient Outcomes in Chronic Pain Management Across Multiple Treatments: Part One

Written by Sumeet Maniar, CEO at WellBrain

In the U.S., 60 percent of all adults have a chronic disease, and 40 percent have two or more. Chronic diseases, which often cause chronic pain, can include conditions such as heart disease, cancer, strokes, and diabetes. As well as being the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., they also place a large financial burden on the country’s health system, driving the $3.8 trillion spent on healthcare costs each year.

While there are many different ways chronic pain can be managed—from physical therapy to radiation—the most common form of treatment is pain relief medication, which includes opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 20 percent of patients who approach physicians with non-cancer pain symptoms will receive an opioid prescription.

However, despite their ability to reduce the perception of pain, opioids are also addictive because they trigger the release of endorphins, which can be a sensation patients want to come back to after a dose wears off. And with all addictions comes the risk of overdose, which can be lethal: from 1999 to 2019, almost 500,000 people died from overdoses involving both prescription and illicit opioids. That illegal opioids are also available to buy in the U.S. without a prescription only compounds the issue.

For this reason, many physicians are investigating other ways to help patients manage chronic pain that don’t involve the use of opioids. One of the most obvious ways to help sufferers is by using a holistic approach to treat their pain, which means taking into account a patient’s emotional, mental, and spiritual needs, as well as their physical condition.

The Changing Face of Chronic Pain Management

In recent years, the demand for non-opioid chronic pain treatments has significantly increased. This is partly for clinical reasons. Studies have shown that long-term opioid therapy can cause adverse effects in several organ systems, including constipation, sleep-disordered breathing, fractures, and in worst cases, overdose.

Demand has also increased for legal reasons. When overdoses from opioid drugs became an epidemic, the Department of Justice (DOJ) began to monitor doctors prescribing the drug to their patients, and pursue those who were doing so illegally. Naturally, these restrictions began to lead to a decrease in opioid prescriptions following a peak in 2012 after increasing every year for more than a decade. In 2020, the national opioid dispensing rate fell to its lowest in 15 years, with just over 140,000 prescriptions issued, compared to more than 255,000 in 2012.

Nowadays, opioid prescriptions are issued with greater scrutiny, with the ultimate goal of reducing patients’ use or weaning them off permanently. A  2019 study conducted in Michigan showed that practitioners in more than 40 percent of clinics would not accept new patients receiving opioid therapy for pain.

Doctors are now investigating a range of non-opioid options to treat chronic pain that can be used alongside low-dose opioid medication. These include everything from meditation to remote patient monitoring and be done through behavioral health integration.

How Healthcare Providers Can Create Better Pain Management Treatments

For Sumeet Maniar, CEO of WellBrain Digital Health Platform, the key is in developing a more comprehensive approach to chronic pain.

“There’s a great correlation between chronic and mental pain,” he said, especially for patients who experience severe chronic pain for six months or more, when the pain starts to become psychological.

In fact, 79 percent of people with arthritis or another chronic pain condition screened positive for moderate to severe for a mental health conditions, with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being the main concern.

A variety of factors from mindfulness to exercise, improved diet, and sleep can all help ease chronic pain. Their advantage is that they can each be tailored to each patient and their individual health conditions. In order to guarantee an improvement, it’s simply a question of monitoring their progress.

Continued in Part Two

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