Building the right team for pain management
by Lakyn Bendle, LPC, MAC, CACII
Everyone has heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one.” We have heard this term applied to team building, problem solving, innovation and all-around advancement in just about every field.
The medical field is no different.
For several decades there has been a shift in health care to provide a multi-disciplinary, integrated team model of care. This is the collaboration of primary care, behavioral health and other specialty programs all under one roof.
There are many benefits to choosing a health care system using an integrated care model: lower health care costs, access to more services, whole-person care and quality care. When each provider is an expert in their discipline, rather than expecting one provider to be the expert of everything, it offers better care to the patient and the community.
That said, let’s talk about having the right team in your corner. How can you and your provider make sure you are getting the best services to make up your total health care? We’ll use one of the most common “red flags” that send someone to the doctor as an example: pain.
There are two types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain. Without pain we sometimes do not recognize there is a problem with our health. We rely on our body and brain to process pain to catch our attention. Although pain is a multifaceted health problem and a complex topic, through knowledge, action, and having the right team, there is hope.
Acute pain can usually be treated by your primary care provider. Acute pain is typically sudden, specific and treatable and can last several weeks or months. Acute pain, for example, can be from an injury or disease and can be treated with appropriate medication and/or a referral to physical therapy, orthopedic doctor, etc. With treatment, function is usually restored. If an acute pain injury or condition goes untreated or is treated improperly, chronic conditions can develop.
Chronic pain is not always a result of acute pain, however. Chronic pain differs from acute pain by being gradual, long lasting and manageable but not treatable in most instances. If a person’s pain is deemed “chronic,” then a primary care provider can refer the patient to specialized providers to identify the underlying conditions.
Whether acute or chronic, the benefit of being in an integrated system is these specialists and your provider can consult with one another to ensure the right testing, referrals and the right treatment plan is in place for your care. For example, a rheumatologist can help treat inflammatory autoimmune diseases or rheumatic disorders that impact joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and osteoporosis.
Although some conditions cannot be cured, a pain management program with integrated tools could be one of the best options for a patient with chronic pain. These programs can include physical therapy, medication, behavioral health services, injections and chiropractic care. With the right tools in place, a person can achieve managed pain and increase in quality of life – the main goal of pain management programs. Conditions that could benefit from a pain management program include multiple sclerosis, nerve pain and fibromyalgia.
As a patient, you have control over your physical health by following through with your provider’s recommendations and referrals and to communicate with your provider to the best of your ability by:
• Describing your pain.
• Giving an accurate timeline.
• Providing feedback as treatment options are implemented.
With most any pain condition there is no simple fix such as taking a magic pill. Often progress relies on accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment and behavior change from the patient. These often are not easy, especially if they are different than what has become your normal. A few examples of ways we can affect our pain negatively or positively are:
• Activity levels.
• Sleep hygiene.
• Medication compliance.
• Thinking patterns.
Yes, these do affect the frequency and intensity of pain, and you do have control over these things. Sometimes we don’t know what to change or how to change. Or we know exactly what we need to do but struggle with follow through. It is hard, but can be done, especially with the help of the last crucial part of your team, your behavioral health consultant (BHC).
There is a complex mind-body connection that can affect how pain is felt. The BHC helps identify, treat and refer if there are underlying mental health problems that could affect an individual’s pain and also works with the provider and patient to identify any possible lifestyle changes that can help the patient have more control over their outcomes.
BHCs can help with behavior modifications that can improve one’s health conditions, including pain, help patients identify goals and take action toward their goals and teach techniques that can help provide relief such as:
• Breathing techniques.
• Relaxation skills.
So, there it is, that’s your team. You and your primary care provider will put together the best team that fits your needs. That can involve specialty providers and behavioral health providers depending on the type of pain and underlying conditions. Remember, you are a crucial part of the team. Your communication, willingness to try new approaches to treatment and commitment to make behavior changes will be the catalyst to a healthier, more satisfying future.