Canada is critically lagging when it comes to the management of chronic pain.
That’s according to a recent report by CBC News.
Chronic pain is an affliction, which in Ontario alone, affects one in five people. The report states that one of the chief limitations is a shortage of resources. This means sufferers often have to wait more than a year to see a specialist and many simply live too far away from pain clinics.
Meanwhile, chronic pain accounts for billions of dollars in health costs and lost productivity annually. Those who are affected face the loss of a normal life. This can often lead to dependency on pain-relieving drugs and serious depression.
But there is some good news: The Health Ministry of Ontario is taking measures to help medical professionals deal effectively with sufferers. The CBC reports that this will be done via the following:
- An investment of $1.33M in a new telemedicine education initiative
- Project will ensure pain patients receive appropriate treatment, diagnostic testing and medication
The above undertaking will be the first of its kind in Canada.
“ECHO (The Extensions of Community Healthcare Outcomes) will use videoconferencing to give local providers training and advice on the best care methods for chronic pain patients,” a ministry spokesperson told Bogoroch and Associates LLP.
To accomplish this, the province is working with the University Health Network (UHN). The UHN consists of four hospital centres: Toronto General, Toronto Western, Princess Margaret and Toronto Rehab. ECHO is expected to be very effective in moving patients through an otherwise complex health care system:
- Will allow UHN to connect chronic pain specialists with primary care providers across the province
- Will expand and update guidelines for MRI and CT scans to reflect the most current, evidence-based best practices
- Those guidelines will give physicians the most appropriate alternatives (such as ultrasound and radiography) to help improve access to diagnostic imaging equipment for chronic pain patients who benefit most from them
“Chronic pain is a serious condition that can be debilitating and difficult to manage, which is why we need to do more to help chronic pain patients receive care. Our government is helping by connecting pain specialists with frontline providers so that chronic pain patients receive the best and most appropriate treatment, where and when they need it,” Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care said of the initiative.
Meanwhile, the CBC report on the subject is sobering. It quotes Dr. Mary Lynch, a pain medicine professor at Dalhousie University. She defines chronic pain as that which persists three to six months after a patient would normally have healed from their medical treatment or condition.
Pain sufferers themselves come under several descriptions, she said. Patients with chronic pain could be victims of burns, injury or have undergone surgery or an amputation. However, many do not have an obviously identifiable illness. But they still suffer continuous pain.
The report goes on to say that three-quarters of the people awaiting treatment for chronic pain say their condition negatively impacts their daily lives.
Nearly 35% have considered taking their own lives.
The Canadian Pain Society was set up in 1982. The organization says that it supports the treatment of pain as a basic human right. Its membership is made up of a large body of medical professionals, scientists and educators interested in the relief of chronic pain.
“The best approach to pain management involves patients, families, and health professionals. Patients and families must be informed that they have a right to the best pain care possible and (sic) encouraged to communicate the severity of their pain,” the society says.
In the meantime, the UHN has high hopes for the success of the ECHO project, which is already underway and will run for three years.
“Chronic pain can cause sleeplessness, poor self-esteem, emotional distress and vocational uncertainty,” President and CEO, University Health Network Dr. Bob Bell said. “This ground-breaking program will give physicians the tools and knowledge to safely prescribe medication and effectively monitor a patient’s progress.”
“About Us.” The Canadian Pain Society. N.p., n.d.
“Better Care for Patients with Chronic Pain.” News Ontario. N.p., 4 Apr. 2014.
Chen, Pauline. “Emergency Rooms Are No Place for the Elderly.” Emergency Rooms Are No Place for the Elderly. Well, 13 Mar. 2014.
Chipman, John. “Chronic Pain Poorly Understood, Costing Canada Billions.” CBC/Radio Canada, 21 June 2014.