Meet Sofia; a 41-year-old married woman. She noticed an unusual lump in her right breast one morning while she was in the shower. She made an appointment with her doctor immediately, who then performed a biopsy several days later. Given Sofia’s family history of breast cancer, when the biopsy results came back questionable, she made the difficult decision to have both of her breasts removed to lower her chances of developing breast cancer. This kind of surgery (a double mastectomy) is often accompanied by chronic postsurgical pain that can last for months. For Sofia, the pain she felt impacted every aspect of her life. She wanted to talk to a therapist about how this surgery had affected her psychologically, but because she didn’t meet the criteria for a mental health disorder, her health insurance wouldn’t cover it. So, Sofia continued at it alone, struggling with intermittent sleep issues and persistent pain. She began to feel depressed and even hopeless at times.
Far too often when we visit a doctor about a chronic pain condition, the heavy emotional toll of the pain is overlooked. This needs to change. Check out the rest of this article to learn more about the need for a comprehensive way to assess and treat chronic pain in the U.S. that is affordable and accessible to all.
Why Don’t Doctors Discuss the Psychological Side of Pain?
Studies show that patients who have chronic pain see 5 or more doctors while setting up a treatment plan, and visit medical providers at least five times more often than the general population (1). And they have a good reason for being in and out of the healthcare system – quality of life is impacted more by chronic pain than any other medical condition (2). These visits, however, don’t generally include any discussion about the psychological aspects of pain or any referrals to mental health professionals or therapists. This is partly because most physicians lack training in this area and because most U.S. health insurance companies don’t provide much in the way of health care coverage for mental services for pain (3). And if they do offer this type of coverage, it tends to be very limited.
Is a More Comprehensive Alternative Better?
A more holistic option – like say a multidisciplinary pain treatment center that offers both physical and psychological medical providers – is a far more effective way to treat chronic pain. For example, people who attended a 20-day pain program that provided a wide range of treatments, including psychological therapy, vocational counseling, ergonomic training, stress management, nutrition and family counseling, hypnosis, and massage were better able to cope with pain (3).
Additionally, these people were more readily able to return to their normal lives. Typically, only 5% of chronic pain patients return to work after being out of a job for an extended period of time. However, 34% of the participants in this study got jobs after they left the program. This is on the heels of being unemployed for at least 24 weeks before attending the 20-day program!.
To enhance the benefits of a multidisciplinary pain treatment program for those of us who are struggling with pain, this kind of health care system should be research-driven and based on individualized needs. Ideally, patients should have access to the resources they need – whether psychological or physical – at affordable costs. Essentially, this type of care would be patient-centered and physicians would be educated across multiple disciplines and thoroughly trained in how to address the emotional aspects of pain that accompany the physical ones (4).
Why Are There So Few Multidisciplinary Pain Treatment Centers?
Why aren’t there more of these effective holistic chronic pain options out there? In large part, the reason is because of the way the health insurance industry is set up. Chronic pain patients often have a hard time accessing medications and services that might help them heal because health insurers provide limited coverage of them (5). With its focus on making money, sometimes health insurance companies don’t provide patients with enough mental health provider options or allow them to get treatments as often as they need (6).
Even when health coverage is not an issue, it can be a long wait to get into a multidisciplinary pain treatment facility simply because there aren’t that many of them. Most North American pain treatment centers are located in cities that aren’t easily accessible to people who live elsewhere. In some cases, it can take five months to several years(!) to be seen for a first appointment (7). And even then, once the treatment finally begins, it requires frequent visits and loads of travel time which disrupts life. For these reasons, it can be a serious challenge for all of us to find and receive comprehensive pain care – even if we realize it would potentially help us to overcome the pain we are experiencing.
Lin Health Offers Holistic Pain Treatment Online Wherever and Whenever You Need
Sofia – and so many others like her – would significantly benefit from the holistic view and treatments that a multidisciplinary pain program offers. This kind of experience gives patients the physical and psychological tools to work towards getting well and back to doing what they love. A shift to a model where everyone receives affordable access to best-in-class clinicians, health coaches, and services whenever and wherever they need (even remotely from home!) is what we all need.