For chronic pain sufferers, finding comprehensive care through Canada's medical system to address pain management continues to be a challenge, a new survey suggests.
An October 2010 online survey of 1,717 Canadians 18 years old and over, 818 of whom were classified as chronic pain sufferers, examined the overall outlook of chronic pain patients toward their condition and toward the lack of health care resources available to them.
While 57% of chronic pain sufferers said their condition had been diagnosed, and of that number 21% said they suffered from arthritis, more than half (53%) of the respondents said they do not follow their health care providers' pain management instructions, because they had received conflicting information from different health care providers.
One reason for the lack of knowledge about pain management among health professionals may be that medical students don't receive enough training in how to recognize and treat chronic pain, says Dr. John Clark, medical director of pain services at Capital Health in Halifax, and medical advisor to the Canadian Pain Coalition, who commissioned the Leger Marketing report.
"Health care providers get less health issues training now, so they feel at a loss as to how to manage pain," says Clark, who believes there should be courses geared toward understanding different aspects of chronic pain. "We need to do a better job of upgrading what people know when they graduate."
Compounding the issue of inadequate care was the unacceptably long wait that six in 10 patients said they had before they could see a specialist. A further 30% of respondents said they sought out complementary or alternative therapies such as chiropractic help, message therapy and acupuncture. They were also pointedly pursuing non-addictive pain medication. Roughly a quarter of respondents said they spent time searching out solutions for their conditions and half of them were frustrated with the lack of results, the survey said.
Despite finding some help in managing their pain, 77% of respondents said they felt their condition was "just something I have to live with," and 36% said they suffered in silence. The demographics for the respondents revealed that those aged 55 and older were most likely to hold the belief that they had to live with their pain. More than 60% said chronic pain had negatively affected their lives.
Clark says the health system has to change to make more knowledge available to health care professionals and chronic pain patients themselves.
"I think advocacy is very important. It's about how you can deliver care in better and more cost-effective ways. If you accept the status quo, things are not going to change."
The Report on Pain online survey was conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 25, 2010. Its results are considered accurate within plus or minus 2.4% for 1,717 respondents, and 3.4% for 818 people.