Pain Management: A Look at Provider Perspectives

It has been well established that pain is the most commonly reported symptom in primary care and a leading cause of disability. Primary care providers (PCPs) face numerous challenges in caring for patients with chronic pain. Pain is subjective, and there are no objective tests that confirm the level of pain people experience. One patient might rate pain as a 4 on a 1-to-10 pain scale while another might label the same degree of pain as a 6 or 7. The successful treatment of chronic pain is challenging, especially in cases for which no sure cause of the pain can be identified. Alleviating pain can be elusive, which becomes frustrating to both patients and PCPs. It can also put a strain on the patient-provider relationship, which can ultimately impact the well-being of both parties. Elucidating the Provider’s Perspective Many studies have looked at the treatment of chronic pain from the patient’s perspective, but there has been little research on those who provide care for these patients. In a study published in the November 2010 issue of Pain Medicine, my colleagues and I surveyed 20 PCPs with open-ended questions to elicit their perspectives on experiences in caring for patients with chronic pain. A central theme from our investigation was that chronic pain takes a real toll on PCPs and their patients. Three other broad themes also emerged from our analysis. First, providers emphasized the importance of the patient-provider relationship, asserting that productive relationships with patients are essential for good pain care. Second, providers detailed the difficulties they encountered when caring for patients with chronic pain. These included: – Feeling pressured to...