An unusually broad collaboration of health professionals from the greater Rochester area has been selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help lead the nation’s assault on pain.
The effort is led by physicians and scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center and includes chiropractors, acupuncturists, nurses, pharmacists, and others from New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls and from St. John Fisher College based in Pittsford. It’s one of a handful of times that these institutions have come together to pool their considerable expertise to attract federal funds to tackle a worldwide problem.
The group is one of 11 teams chosen by NIH to form a nationwide coalition of Centers of Excellence in Pain Education. The endeavor aims to improve pain treatment for patients by enhancing how health care professionals are taught about the causes and wide variety of treatments available to manage pain.
With a $275,000 grant from NIH, the Rochester team will create materials that will be used worldwide to help teach health care professionals – physicians, chiropractors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and others – about the latest treatment strategies for patients in pain.
The team is headed by O.J. Sahler, M.D., a pediatrician at Golisano Children’s Hospital who specializes in the treatment of pain in children and adolescents.
“We need to understand pain more completely, and we need to help patients cope with their pain more effectively,” said Sahler, who is professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Medical Humanities, and Oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“Pain can contribute to deterioration in so many facets of a person’s life if he or she is not able to cope with it successfully. We are looking at approaches to pain management from as broad a spectrum of health professionals as we can, since working with people who have a different perspective greatly enriches the learning experience for all,” she added.
Areas of focus for the Rochester team will include pain in young children, the elderly, people with dental or facial conditions, and people in pain for unknown reasons.
At New York Chiropractic College, chiropractors as well as experts in Oriental Medicine will be taking part. At St. John Fisher College, faculty from the Wegmans School of Nursing and the Wegmans School of Pharmacy are included.
At the University, the project includes doctors, nurses, dentists, scientists and other faculty members from several areas, including the departments of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, Medicine, Pharmacology and Physiology, and Psychiatry, as well as the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, Golisano Children’s Hospital, the School of Nursing, and the new Center for Experiential Learning.
The main contribution of the Rochester-area collaborative will be the creation of five in-depth case studies of patients in pain. Drawing on the expertise of professionals who collectively have hundreds of years of experience, the case studies will be made available to professionals worldwide via the Internet.
The cases will include:
A 7-year-old boy who suffered a brain injury during birth and is in severe pain;
An 80-year-old woman with back pain;
A 66-year-old woman with lung cancer;
A 15-year-old girl with jaw pain;
A 34-year-old woman with severe abdominal and pelvic pain.
“One of our goals is to develop materials that will be appropriate for use by students who are just beginning, whether they are training to be doctors, chiropractors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, or other professionals,” said Sahler. “Learning early in their careers about the many ways to assess and treat pain will provide them with critical lifelong skills.”
Pain affects people in many ways, subtle and not so subtle, Sahler said. Severe back pain might cost a person a job, or cause an older person to lose his independence by making it impossible for him to drive or to live alone, for instance. A teen might have a knee injury from athletics and never fully recover, causing not only lifelong pain but also major limitations in both work and leisure activities. A cancer patient suffering from severe pain might be coping not only with physical pain but also with the emotional pain that can accompany facing the end of life.
NIH officials estimate that chronic pain affects approximately 100 million Americans, costing up to $635 billion in medical treatment and lost productivity each year.
“Virtually all health professionals are called upon to help patients suffering from pain,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “These new centers will translate current research findings about pain management to fill what have been recognized as gaps in curricula so clinicians in all fields can work with their patients to make better and safer choices about pain treatment.”