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National Pain Strategy outlines actions for improving pain care in America

Plan seeks to reduce the burden and prevalence of pain and to improve the treatment of pain
Friday, March 18, 2016
Contact: ASH Media Office

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today released a National Pain Strategy, outlining the federal government’s first coordinated plan for reducing the burden of chronic pain that affects millions of Americans. Developed by a diverse team of experts from around the nation, the National Pain Strategy is a roadmap toward achieving a system of care in which all people receive appropriate, high quality and evidence-based care for pain.

“Chronic pain is a significant public health problem, affecting millions of Americans and incurring significant economic costs to our society,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., HHS acting assistant secretary for health. “This report identifies the key steps we can take to improve how we prevent, assess and treat pain in this country.”

In 2011, in recognition of the public health problem of pain in America, the Institute of Medicine called for a coordinated, national effort of public and private organizations to transform how the nation understands and approaches pain management and prevention. In response, HHS tasked the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee (IPRCC), a group of representatives from the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and members of the public, including scientists and patient advocates, with developing a National Pain Strategy that recognizes access to safe and effective care for people suffering from pain as a public health priority. The final Strategy being released today makes recommendations for improving overall pain care in America in six key areas: population research; prevention and care; disparities; service delivery and payment; professional education and training; and public education and communication.

More specifically, the Strategy calls for:

  • Developing methods and metrics to monitor and improve the prevention and management of pain.
  • Supporting the development of a system of patient-centered integrated pain management practices based on a biopsychosocial model of care that enables providers and patients to access the full spectrum of pain treatment options.
  • Taking steps to reduce barriers to pain care and improve the quality of pain care for vulnerable, stigmatized and underserved populations.
  • Increasing public awareness of pain, increasing patient knowledge of treatment options and risks, and helping to develop a better informed health care workforce with regard to pain management.

“Of the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain, too many find that it affects many or all aspects of their lives,” said Linda Porter, Ph.D., director, NIH’s Office of Pain Policy and co-chair of the IPRCC working group that helped to develop the report. “We need to ensure that people with pain get appropriate care and that means defining how we can best manage pain care in this country.”

The IPRCC engaged with a broad range of experts, including pain care providers, scientists, insurers, patient advocates, accreditation boards, professional societies and government officials to develop the Strategy. Upon the release of the Strategy, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, in conjunction with other HHS operating and staff divisions, will consider the recommendations included in the Strategy and develop an implementation and evaluation plan based on this process. In addition, the IPRCC is creating a research agenda to advance pain-related research in an effort to realize the goals of the Strategy.

“Pain can affect all aspects of a patient’s life, so we wanted to hear from everyone,” said Sean Mackey, M.D., Ph.D., chief, Division of Pain Medicine, Stanford University, and a co-chair of the IPRCC working group that helped to develop the report. “Similarly, to achieve the goals in this report, we will need everyone working together to create the cultural transformation in pain prevention, care and education that is desperately needed by the American public.”

Better pain care, achieved through implementation of the National Pain Strategy, is an essential element in the Secretary’s initiative to address the opioid epidemic. Access to care that appropriately assesses benefits and risks to people suffering from pain remains a priority that needs to be balanced with efforts to curb inappropriate opioid prescribing and use practices. The Strategy provides opportunities for reducing the need for and over-reliance on prescription opioid medications, including: 

  • Improving provider education on pain management practices and team-based care in which multiple treatment options are offered – moving away from an opioid-centric treatment paradigm.
  • Improving patient self-management strategies, as well as patient access to quality, multidisciplinary care that does not depend solely on prescription medications, especially for vulnerable populations.
  • Encouraging the evaluation of risks and benefits of current pain treatment regimens.
  • Providing patients with educational tools to encourage safer use of prescription opioids. 
  • Conducting research to identify how best to provide the appropriate pain treatments to individual patients based on their unique medical conditions and preferences.

These efforts will build on the current work underway at HHS to equip providers with the tools and information they need to make informed patient-centered treatment decisions that include safer and appropriate opioid prescribing.

The goals of the National Pain Strategy can be achieved through a broad effort in which better pain care is provided, along with safer prescribing practices, such as those recommended in the recently released CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.

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Content created by Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH)
Content last reviewed on March 18, 2016
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