The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 million Americans (or roughly 20 percent of the adult population in the U.S.) experience chronic pain. In addition to the obvious suffering that is caused by chronic pain, there is another problem: the cost.
When you consider the cost of care, medication, ER visits, hospitalizations and even missed work and decreased productivity that is tied to pain, the pain problem becomes clear. To drive down the high cost of pain, it is critical that pain is managed proactively. Despite the fact that pain (and its underlying causes) can almost always be treated most effectively and cost efficiently outside of the emergency room, pain is the most common reason patients visit the ER.
Healthcare providers have opportunities to prevent costly pain-related ER visits if they are prepared to remotely monitor chronic conditions and pain to provide patients with proactive pain management support. Here are three simple steps healthcare teams can take to make pain management more proactive:
1. Track patients’ pain with remote health monitoring surveys.
Send patients with chronic pain a weekly survey check-in asking them to rate their pain level so you can track changes from week to week. Have them answer questions about whether they are taking prescribed pain medications and what impact medication is having on their pain. Ask if the pain is constant or if it comes and goes. Have patients indicate if they would like to speak to a member of their healthcare team to discuss alternative pain management options. By using surveys to check in regularly, you will gain insights about what is going on with patients and be able to compare responses over time. This makes it easier to identify when patients are struggling, and then intervene. Because surveys help patients stay connected to providers and receive support with pain management, nearly eight in ten patients with chronic conditions (79%) say they are interested in participating in remote health monitoring surveys.
2. Send patients emails with educational pain management information.
Email communications are useful for educating patients about things they can do at home to manage their pain. Send patients emails with information about how they may be able to reduce their pain by participating in low-impact physical activities like yoga or swimming. Share weight loss tips and information with patients who need to lose weight to relieve stress on joints and reduce pain. Determine what information is relevant to patients based on feedback they have shared through monitoring surveys, and regularly send emails to keep them informed about what they can do to better manage their pain.
3. Text patients important contact information and instructions they may need in case of severe pain.
Send patients a text with phone numbers they can save to their contacts in case they experience severe pain. Make sure patients know the appropriate steps they should take if pain becomes unbearable, and occasionally send them text reminders with those instructions. If patients know their options and what to do in the event of extreme pain, and they can easily reach a member of their healthcare team, they may be less likely to choose the ER for care when they are in pain.
Each year in the U.S. the cost of pain amounts to at least $560-$635 billion, or about $2,000 for every American. To learn more about steps healthcare teams can take to improve pain management and rein in costs, download The Pain Problem: The ER Is the Wrong Place to Treat Chronic Pain.