Hospital Pain

“This Might Hurt” – Hospitals Brace Patients for Pain

As opioid crisis grows, hospitals rethink pain management strategies

As healthcare providers face relentless cost pressures, and fight for high patient satisfaction scores – one of the key mantras has been to make sure patients are as comfortable as possible. While obviously a worthy goal, what this mindset has meant in practice is a high reliance on opioid-based pain relievers at every part of the patient experience.

As the opioid crisis continues to escalate, some HCPs are rethinking pain management. NPR recently reported that doctors at some of the country’s largest hospital chains admit they went overboard with opioids to make people as pain-free as possible.

Now the doctors shoulder part of the blame for the country’s opioid crisis. In an effort to be part of the cure, they’ve begun to issue an uncomfortable warning to patients: You’re going to feel some pain.

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“It starts with patient expectations, and I think over the years, patients have come to expect more and more in terms of, ‘I don’t want any pain after surgery,’ and it’s an unrealistic expectation,” says anesthesiologist David Alfery.

The expectation exists in part because pain treatment became an institutional priority. Hospitals are graded on how well they keep someone’s pain at bay. And doctors can feel pressure from the institution, and on a personal level, to minimize pain.

“I just wanted my patient not to be in pain, thinking I was doing the right thing for them and certainly not [being] an outlier among my colleagues,” says Dr. Mike Schlosser, chief medical officer for a division of HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain.

“But now looking back on it, I was putting them at significant risk for developing an addiction to those medications,” he says.

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To read more about how hospitals have begun re-thinking pain management strategies in the face of the opioid crisis, please visit NPR.org.

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