SEARHC improves pain medication management program
February 03, 2011
Due to these troubling statistics, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) will be adopting a consortium-wide pain management program that helps medical providers and patients find the best treatment plan possible for chronic pain. Treatment plans will include other types of healing in addition to pain relievers.
SEARHC is implementing the consortium-wide pain management program for several reasons, including the benefits and dangers of using some pain medications. More important, there may be non-medication treatment options available that have better long-term results. The pain program will also develop a consistent process for the entire consortium. Medical providers will be taught to use a thorough step-by-step method of assessing patients to help them determine the best medications, doses and treatments. This will enable providers to identify the best ways to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment, while also watching for signs the medication is used properly. A major element of the pain management program is patient education, helping the patient understand what is causing pain and why a certain treatment may be more effective over another. As part of the patient education, all non-cancer patients who receive pain medication will receive an Opioid Informed Consent agreement that details the patient safety opportunities and responsibilities while taking these medications. The pain management program should take effect by the summer of 2011.
“This program will promote a better interaction for our patients and health care providers,” said Dr. S.R. Thorward, MD, SEARHC Behavioral Health Clinical Director. “In some cases, a provider may prescribe physical therapy to help a patient from an injury. In other cases, a provider may decide an opioid pain medication such as oxycodone or hydrocodone is the best treatment. For many, the provider may decide a combination of alternative healing and pain relievers will give the patient the best results. Our goal is to help our patients be able to improve their movement and increase their activities so the quality of their lives is enhanced.”
There has been a nationwide increase in the use of prescription opioid pain medications — such as oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®) and methadone. In some cases, opioid pain medications are needed and there even may be times when a patient needs more pain pills than they currently receive. These medications also can be dangerous if misused and always carry a burden of side effects.
National and state health officials are trying to find safer, more complete and thorough ways to treat chronic pain and find safer ways to use opioid pain relievers. Some national laws have been rewritten to limit when and how these medicines may be prescribed. Many local health agencies, such as SEARHC, have been reviewing their policies to find ways to make opioid pain reliever prescriptions safer for their patients. SEARHC is using as models several national policies/guidelines that are considered best practices — such as those developed by the CDC, American Dental Association and the National Institutes of Health — while it reviews and rewrites its pain medication management program.
“The use and misuse of pain relief medications has been a major concern nationally, and it also has caused concern locally,” said Dr. Janice Sheufelt, MD, SEARHC Ethel Lund Medical Center Clinic Administrator/Medical Director. “Some of the concerns include pain pills being used by people who weren’t prescribed the medication, how prescriptions are managed and how it can be difficult to obtain prescriptions for people who need them. We hope the new pain medication management program will standardize the way we prescribe pain medications so those patients who need them can get the treatment they need, but also that pain medications stay out of the hands of people who don’t need them.”
Opioid pain relievers can be valuable tools when it comes to managing pain, and SEARHC will continue to prescribe them as a part of an appropriate treatment. There may be times when SEARHC medical providers decide to use an alternative to opioid pain relievers, such as physical therapy, yoga, massage, alternative medicine such as acupuncture, or some other form of healing. SEARHC plans to investigate these other forms of treatment as it develops its new prescription pain medication management policy to see when they can be used alone and when they can be combined with pain medications for best results.
“The primary goals of the SEARHC Pain Management Program are to minimize chronic pain and improve a patient’s ability to function,” said Dr. David Vastola, MD, SEARHC Community Health Care Services Medical Director. “Most patients with chronic pain should be able to work, play and maximally enjoy life.”
By finding better alternatives to pain medications, when appropriate, SEARHC seeks to provide patients with better treatment and understanding of chronic pain, to improve the lives of those patients burdened by long-lasting pain.
“We’re very hopeful that SEARHC patients will receive better care for their pain and their lives will be improved,” Dr. Sheufelt said.
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