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Consumer

Managing Pain – A Reality Check

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, ePatient, Informaticist, Researcher | 3 Comments

Last month I asked for a reality check from my social networks on behalf of the Patient-Centered Clinical Decision Support (PCCDS) Learning Network about helping people use information better in managing pain:

Everyone makes decisions about managing pain sometime in their lives. Most people with chronic illness make repeated decisions about managing pain every day. Some people are fortunate to have strong relationships with trusted clinicians and care partners to share the decisions about managing pain. An alarming number of people have found themselves in a downward spiral of addiction to opioids first taken to manage their acute or chronic pain.

Many (more than 25) of you responded. You being People at the Center of Care (people with pain, medical and non-medical professionals advising and treating people with pain, and the people who support patients and professionals day-to-day.) Thank you for your insights. They make a difference. Here’s a summary, lightly edited, of what I heard.

Opioids and Pain

Most respondents couldn’t relate to opioid clinical decision support.  They could relate to pain management. Nobody said they preferred to take opioids. A few said that when their chronic pain was really bad, opioids were the only thing that worked. They were frustrated that they couldn’t get them anymore due to the heavy focus on opioid reduction.

  • When I have a sickle cell crisis, only opioids relieve my pain. I’ve had to remain in excruciating pain because they thought I was drug seeking.

Describing Pain

Describing pain is frustrating and limiting

  • The question frustrated me every time. I asked them to create a standard list to choose from addressing the quality, duration, intensity, location, etc. of the pain. That would have been so helpful. As you have learned to gain awareness to name and to know your pain, your mindful ability to stay with it, rather than run from it, I believe is part of the equation you seek to address. Aversion and fear of our experiences only add another layer of pain.
  • I have to manage my doctors’ abilities to hear about the pain. If I score too high I’m a complainer and they think nothing will work. If too low, then I’m not worth treating.

Pain Goals and Concerns

Managing pain occurs in the context of a life (determinants of health)

  • Discuss my pain goals and concerns with me, including financial & emotional goals and concerns. 
  • Care about my life and what I’m trying to accomplish. I need pain relief to be a parent, a worker, a partner, a contributor.
  • Chronic pain is expensive to manage when most health insurance benefit plans readily cover Rx, but only sometimes cover non-medication therapies. E.g. denial of physical therapy claims for on-going pain management relief. In an ideal scenario, health insurance would cover non-medication-centric pain management services as a matter of course, in parity with Rx coverage for the same condition.
  • Refer patients to integrated behavioral health support to address coping skills in recognition of the chronic pain and depression relationship.

Managing Pain

The bridge between evidence and personal expertise.

  • Managing pain is a continual experiment. Nothing works every time you’re in pain, including medication. You need several proven choices. 
  • I try to keep a journal of how I’m feeling, what I’m doing, and what works as I manage pain. It’s really hard to do when you’re in pain.
  • There are many therapeutic strategies that address the symptoms of physical pain and ways to interrupt the pain cycle and the experience of pain.  I wish I were an expert on the subject.  I know that there are some good answers available to people who struggle with chronic pain.   I believe that people need a combination of coaching and knowledge, as well as hands-on treatment, to benefit from these answers.

Doctors and Managing Pain

  • Doctors only know about drugs.  They can’t admit they don’t know about anything else that might work.
  • Doctors don’t have time for pain management. It can’t be done in occasional 20-minute visits.
  • Most of my questions about pain management occur when doctors aren’t available, like the middle of the night.
  • Technology is not a substitute for time and the relationship with my doctor.
  • I think we need to make the WHO pain ladder (cancer pain) one outcropping of a multimodal pain strategy but start with nonpharm, reorienting the meaning of pain, and subsidize multimodal pain plans before surgery and after injury.  As a pediatrician, pain researcher, inventor, innovator, and former procedural sedationist (I’ve pushed a LOT of fentanyl/propofol/ketamine), I’m much more interested in prevention and lowering the amount of opioids in circulation. 

Other Resources

  • We have an evidenced-based six-week peer-led pain self-management program that is widely used in the US, Canada and elsewhere. People can find locations near them by going to the Evidence-Based Leadership Council and clicking on the program locator on the upper right.
  • As part of The Pain Companion book launch, I’ve been on a number of excellent radio and TV shows recently talking about life with chronic pain and how we might find greater ease and well-being.
  • I recommend getting in touch with the British Pain Society. They are the organization that supports British Pain Clinics.  The Pain Clinics in the UK have embraced some of the complementary and alternative remedies that are quite helpful with pain management.   It is part of their standard protocol and clinic staff work with patients to implement these treatments.  

Suggestions and Questions

  • We should compensate doctors better for pain management discussions.
  • Why don’t we use palliative care specialists when patients have chronic pain? Palliative care is not just for the dying.
  • Pay post-op patients $200 to spend on a Pain Plan approved intervention if they don’t fill an opioid prescription. 
  • Give a list of evidence-based non-pharm options to every pre-op patient, and with every new opioid script.
  • Isn’t there a start-up in compiling non-medication pain management resources by zip code?
  • Why don’t we do more research about non-medication options for relieving pain?

Wow. Responses are still rolling in. Thanks to everyone. I am compiling these into a resource center that will include a pain management section. This is just the beginning of the conversation.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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Money Back Guarantee: Value Proposition

By | Advocate, Consumer, Researcher | One Comment

XYZ Hospital – Money back guarantee

Acme Specialty Services – On-time appts or we pay you

We Wish Think Tank – Research for patients

People’s Pharma – Medications you can afford

I love value propositions: vague, aspirational, ethics remote.  Think: Uber – The smartest way to get around; Apple iPhone – The Experience IS the Product; Walmart – Everyday low prices; Google – Search Engine for the World

This month  I heard the term value proposition in two meetings I attended: A CMS Technical Expert Panel about the value-based measurement system and an iHope Study meeting (Improving Hospital Outcomes through Patient Engagement). It came up as, What is the Value Proposition for researchers, measure developers, and healthcare executives for patient participation? This seemed important to me. If we advocates are trying to sell the idea that patients and caregivers should be at the table for policy making, research, measure development, healthcare delivery don’t we need a clear value proposition?

What is a value proposition? A marketing term? Value proposition refers to a business or marketing statement that a company uses to summarize why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement convinces a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings will. Companies use this statement to target customers who will benefit most from using the company’s products. Read more here.

I certainly can find resources for healthcare executives creating a value proposition to market to patients, such as The Five Key Elements to a Hospital’s Value Proposition. But let’s say that our audience is researchers, measure developers, or healthcare executives.  What, then, is the value statement for patient participation in governance, design, operations, and learning? I called my friend and go-to brain, Mighty Casey Quinlan. As usual, she expanded my mind. She suggested that Value Propositions assume a relationship between equal partners. Equal partnerships in healthcare (between clinicians and patients) seems to be my life work. But, as Casey explained the business of health care is anything but equal.  Although most money in healthcare in the US comes from sick or well individuals’ taxes, wages, earnings, or savings we have the collective perception that it comes from insurers, employers, governments. This creates a cliff size imbalance in the relationship. It could be similar to building a house. Most of us don’t have the skills, time, or resources to build a house ourselves.  We hire a contractor to manage and coordinate the skilled people who purchase and assemble materials that end up a house.  We pay for the house.  There’s an equal partnership. Our money, their work. Could be, but isn’t. Not if we don’t accept that it’s our money. No equal relationship, really no relationship at all.

So what’s our value proposition for investing our wages, taxes, savings, and earnings in our healthcare system?  I’m having trouble getting my brain around this. Any ideas?

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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Paying Patient Experts

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Consumer, ePatient | 2 Comments

You’ve heard the Chief xxx Officer saying, I don’t need to listen to patient experts, we’re all patients. Gee, what do you say to this inexperience? You’ve also heard the empathy and born-again drive of the Chief xxx Officer who has a chronic illness, was recently hospitalized, or is the caregiver of a family member with chronic illness. Nothing can replace the experience of spending a day in a hospital bed or navigating your neighborhood for a day in a wheelchair.

I attended the Society of Participatory Medicine’s first conference a couple of months ago. Some businesses making big money from patient data describing their volunteer patient advisory panels or providing gift cards to their patient experts. We’d like to pay more, but it’s what we can afford.

I’ve been a reviewer of funding requests since 2013 for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). PCORI pays all stakeholder reviewers (patients, clinicians, scientists, administrators) the same stipend-a reasonable amount.

In 2013 and 2014 funding applications I reviewed listed either no payment or $50 gift cards for patient stakeholders on their Research Advisory Boards. By 2016 many funding applications listed $500-$1000 stipends. In 2017 I saw an application that budgeted for the payment of respite care for caregiver experts’ carees. We’ve come a long way.

The US has a love-hate relationship with paying for value. It’s like the Golden Rule: easy to say, tough to do. Just look at the Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax bill. I digress… The healthcare industry values credentials as a proxy for knowledge- whether or not they know what the acronyms mean. Acronyms = expertise. Credentials usual mean deep expertise in a narrow subject. We willingly pay for deep and narrow with credentials. Patients can have deeper knowledge about a narrower subject than those credentialed. We don’t have a means to calculate that value nor a willingness to pay for it. Read More

caregivers hands

Caregivers Rule: National Caregiving Conference

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, Family man | One Comment

I just got home from the 2nd Annual National Caregiving Conference in Chicago convened and hosted by Denise Brown and  NationalCaregiving.com. You know the drill – most health care anywhere in the world is provided by family caregivers and parents. The attendees, mostly active or recent caregivers, networked over their shared lived experience. Presentations about caring for elders with dementia was the most common thread and topic.  Occasionally I heard chatter about caring for children or depression. Sometimes the stories of frustration, exhaustion, and loneliness overwhelmed those of gratitude, survival, and inspiration. It’s hard for me to hear too many of the painful stories and maintain my pathological optimism.

I especially appreciated the session about surviving and blossoming as a couple while caregiving led by Frank and Lisa Riggi – heartfelt, practical, and humorous. 10 Activities to do With Your Spouse Every Year – 10!, Only 10? I ask many caregivers, “How goes your marriage/partnership?” Faces fall.  Cathy Sikorski‘s keynote, Preparation, Frustration, and Surrender…Boldness Throughout Caregiving was an intriguing combination of hands-on, funny, and legal. Imagine you’re talking to the Cable Company. Be Bold!

Did you know that a third of caregivers die before their caree? Crazy?  Not really. Caregiving wears you down, while caregivers put their caree before themselves. Self-care: I loves that theme. This crowd seemed to self-care better than many.

The entrepreneurial spirit shone. My favorites: Carla Macklin’s Adaptive Clothing; Mekhala Raghavan and Angie Creager’s bathing aids and fall prevention (Waiting for production of their vibrating neuro-responsive fall prevention mat and their wash and vacuum the water shower anywhere system. I’ll try anything for fall prevention for myself and narrow doorway bathrooms are endemic in older homes); Quikiks Hands-Free Shoes (I’m always looking for easy, safe, comfortable shoes); and Shirley Riga’s book, “Tools for the Exceptional Parent of a Chronically Ill Child” published by Strong Voices Publishing.  Check them out! I love to hear what works for people. Solutions from the trenches rule! (I receive no compensation from anyone mentioned here.)

I attended as a panelist for The Family Connection: Supporting Essential Care Partners as Patients Transition to Home, with Geri Lynn Baumblatt, Mary Anne Sterling, and Cathy Crookston. Most nightmares I heard at the conference involved transitions to or from medical care. I did hear one story of the transition done very, very well. It can be done. If you’re lucky it’s because one person made a difference.  It shouldn’t be luck. Caregiving is hard enough.

Caregivers: How do you manage your marriage? When has BOLD worked for you? What’s the best transition you’ve experienced?

Honor the caregivers. Help the helpers.

From the Inside Looking Out

By | Caregiver, Clinician, Consumer, ePatient, Family man | No Comments

At the #PCORI2017 Annual Meeting, Alan Alda showed us a simple mirror improv exercise (remember Groucho and Chico Marx in Duck Soup?). Alan first showed us him mirroring an audience member, then the audience member mirroring him, and finally, them mirroring each other at the same time. It was an exercise in empathy.  Afterwards, someone at my table said,

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.

I first heard these words many years ago from a peer support professional describing the experience of depression and addiction. I understand this better now that I’m a person with a chronic illness. I work hard to explain what’s inside to my family and other members of my health team.  Often I don’t know or I don’t have words. Mindful meditation helps tremendously – deciding to become friends with what ails me. It’s all me and I love me. I’m not sure if it helps me explain, but it helps me know myself. And for sure, it increases my empathy when I’m on the outside looking in. Thanks, Alan, for reminding us.

See also other posts about Improv and

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

Learning from What Doesn’t Work

Personal Health Goals Revisited

By | Caregiver, Consumer, ePatient | One Comment

I’m celebrating that I’ve finally learned an effective stretch for my hamstrings. Thigh and calf Charley horses and foot cramps have disrupted my days. My low back’s been hurting for several months caused by this tightening and cramping of my quads, hamstrings, calves, and feet. It’s become hard to sit for more than 15 minutes. I bought a standing desk, next to my sitting desk. I’m paying attention to ergonomics, learning to type (I’ve always been a hunt and peck kind of guy). My chiropractor and massage therapist attribute these muscle cramps to changes in my walking caused by the MS and wearing an ankle/foot orthotic. The Charley horses are the worst. I’m learning that there’s nothing straightforward about stretching. I’ve been stretching for months with very short-term relief. All of a sudden on a road trip this week, stopping at every rest stop to stretch, it kicked in! It’s not about stretching, it’s about relaxing. Standing tall, pelvic tilt, bending at the waist, relaxing. A meditation. I can feel the hamstrings and calves responding. Exciting!  Read More

Bad experience? Now what?

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Consumer, ePatient, Leader | No Comments

I read a post this week on the Society of Participatory Medicine’s blog about a nightmare attempt to obtain medical appointments as new patients. You’ve faced the poor listening skills, conflicting information about the availability of appointments, lack of sharing information about you within the clinic or insurance company, poor or no follow-up, waiting, waiting, waiting, that the author describes.

I’ve dealt with it, too, as a patient, caregiver, clinician, and quality management leader. So, how do health care clinics and insurance companies know about the challenges their patients/customers live through? The most common is through surveys. Surveys are blunt (not sharp) and fairly useless. Most health plans require clinics to administer the CGAHPS Clinician and Group Survey. Three questions on the survey include:

  1. Patient got appointment for urgent care as soon as needed
  2. Patient got appointment for non-urgent care as soon as needed
  3. Patient got answer to medical question the same day he/she contacted provider’s office

You can answer Never, Sometimes, Usually, Always.

Most health plans survey patients about health plan service:

  1. In the last 12 months, when you needed care right away, how often did you get care as soon as you needed?
  2. In the last 12 months, how often did you get an appointment for a check-up or routine care at a doctor’s office or clinic as soon as you needed?
  3. In the last 12 months, how often was it easy to get the care, tests, or treatment you needed?

See, not very informative. A score might be more than 80% of patients say Usually or Always? That could mean that 19 of 100 people responding are unhappy with their experience. Wow. How can anything be changed based on that result? Read More

Service Agreements for Me and My Health Team

By | Advocate, Caregiver, Consumer, ePatient | 2 Comments

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago for the Society of Participatory Medicine about Service Agreements Among Friends and Colleagues. My point was that service agreements set boundaries, which can be especially important for someone who’s managing a chronic condition. I shared my post with my colleagues at Involution Studios while we discussed the future of Precision Medicine.  What if we had service agreements with members of our health team? Professionals and non-professionals. And ourselves. Could we think of care plans as service agreements? Person-centered care planning focuses on the goals of the person on the health journey. Who’s going to do what to get there? When? How will these goals and activities be tracked and shared across time and settings? The service agreement is the who’s doing what to get there and when are they going to do it? If my goal is to progress as slowly as possible with my Multiple Sclerosis, then my part of the service agreement is that I will: Read More

March Madness – TrumpCare

By | Advocate, Consumer, Family man, Leader | 2 Comments

I’m not following March Madness this year for the first time since we bought a TV in 1985. We ended cable this year (that’s another health story for later). Rather, I followed the suspense of the failed enactment of RyanCare and TrumpCare. I silently cheered at my seat in DC while reviewing PCORI Palliative Care funding requests.  My elation lasted all of five seconds. I can’t ignore that Ryan, Trump et al still want to end funding for Meals on Wheels, housing subsidies, and home energy supports. We know that even with the best-subsidized insurance, a person who can’t get enough food to eat nor heat their home, nor afford a home can’t benefit from great medical care. These social determinants of health (or living life if you’re not a researcher or policy maker) impact health as much as, if not more than, medical care. Read More