Pain management often involves more than just your primary care physician. You might need another pain management specialist or two to determine the exact source of your chronic pain and successfully treat that pain.
Multidisciplinary pain programs are the medical community’s response to that reality. In these programs, pain management specialists from a variety of fields work together to help you manage pain.
Evidence is building that multidisciplinary pain programs are better for patients than the piecemeal approach to pain management that has been the norm up to now. A recent review of medical studies comparing the two approaches found that multidisciplinary pain programs are far superior to standard medical treatment. Most studies reviewed found that patients with fibromyalgia or chronic back pain in particular benefited greatly from a multidisciplinary approach.
Manage Pain: Who’s On the Team?
Multidisciplinary pain programs are most often found in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Members of a multidisciplinary chronic pain management team often include:
- Your primary care physician
- Physician pain-management specialists such as neurologists, rheumatologists, orthopedists, physiatrists, anesthesiologists, and psychiatrists
- Physical and occupational therapists who can help guide your recovery and rehabilitation
- Psychologists who can help you deal with the emotional and mental aspects of pain management
- Registered nurses who can aid your day-to-day pain treatment
- Case managers who can help keep all the different pain management efforts organized and coordinated
A multidisciplinary pain management team also might include:
- Biofeedback therapists
- Family counselors
- Vocational counselors
- Social workers
- Support staff
These pain management specialists work together to coordinate patient care. Each reviews patient progress and communicates with others on the team on a scheduled basis about individual patients and their pain management. They also will come together as a team to discuss your care with you — reviewing your specific goals, what strategies have worked so far, and what the next best steps might be. The multidisciplinary approach works because you have different types of specialists focused on your well-being.
Finding and Assessing a Pain Management Program
To find a multidisciplinary pain program, start with the American Academy of Pain Management. This professional organization provides accreditation to pain programs, including comprehensive multidisciplinary programs staffed by practitioners of four or more disciplines and small multidisciplinary programs staffed by practitioners of two or three disciplines. The academy’s Web site also features a searchable database of accredited programs.
Next, get the answers to these questions to assess whether a particular program is right for you:
- What are the program’s shared beliefs and mission?
- Is the program centered on patients and their families?
- Is there a particular age group that the program typically works with, such as seniors or adolescents?
- Do they establish agreed-upon goals for treatment and develop individualized treatment plans for each patient?
- Do the team members communicate often and enjoy mutual respect?
- Is there an easy way to get outside consultation from a physician whose specialty is not included in the pain program?
- Does the program focus on pain management of specific types of pain (for example, back pain or chronic headache pain) or are all types of pain treated?
- Do the practitioners work together to monitor your progress and provide you with frequent feedback and formal follow-ups?
- Does the pain management program participate in research on new methods of pain evaluation or control, or is it treatment-oriented only?
Once you find the right multidisciplinary program for you, you will have a team of pain professionals focused on helping you find the most effective ways to manage pain.