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Pain Physician. 2008 Nov-Dec;11(6):775-84.

A crisis in chronic pain care: an ethical analysis. Part three: Toward an integrative, multi-disciplinary pain medicine built around the needs of the patient.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA.


A number of variables have contributed to the current crisis in chronic pain care and are affected by, and affect, the philosophies and politics that influence the socio-economic climate of the American healthcare system. Thus, we posit that managing the crisis in chronic pain care in the United States is contingent upon the development of a multi-focal healthcare paradigm that more thoroughly enables and fortifies research, its translation (in education and practice), and the implementation of, and support for, both the curative and healing approaches in medicine in general, and pain care specifically. These steps necessitate re-examination, if not revision of the health care system and its economics. The ethical imperative to consider and prudently employ cutting-edge diagnostic and therapeutic technologies in pain medicine is obligatory. However, "supply side prudence" is of little value if "demand side accessibility" is lacking. Revisions to health insurance plans advocated by the in-coming administration seek to create uniformity in basic health care services based upon re-assessment of the clinical effectiveness (versus merely cost) of treatments, including those that are "high tech." These plans attempt to allow every patient a more complete ability to deliberatively work with physicians to access those services and resources that maximize health functioning and goals. But even given these revisions, authentic pain care must take into account the interactive contexts of the painient individual. The biopsychosocial model of chronic pain management may have significant practical and ethical worth in this regard. A system of pain treatment operating from a biopsychosocial perspective necessitates integrative multi-disciplinarity. We propose a tiered, multi-disciplinary paradigm based upon the differing needs of each specific patient. But establishing such a system does not guarantee access, and distribution of these services and resources requires economic support to ensure that capabilities are more broadly available (i.e., supplied), and afforded as needed and wanted (i.e., demanded). Toward this end, we posit the need to focus upon, and more fully integrate 1) education, 2) multi-disciplinary care (including re-vivification of MPCs), 3) policies that allow financial subsidies that afford patients the latitude to access and utilize such expanded resources appropriately to meet identified medical needs, and 4) medico-legal initiatives and statutes that protect and enable patients and physicians. The proposed changes comport with a number of ethical systems in that they support the basic deontic structure of the profession and allow for a richer, more finely grained articulation of clinical and ethical responsibilities within the scope of particular general, specialty, and sub-specialty practices.

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