The “pain scale” is a standard tool to help patients quantify their level of discomfort so you can administer the appropriate degree of pain relief. The problem is, it doesn’t necessarily work. Some patients may overstate their pain to game the system and get a prescription; with the opiate crisis still raging throughout the country, the consequence of this could literally by deadline. On the other extreme, stoic types may not want to admit they’re in agony, leaving them to suffer needlessly—sometimes to the detriment of their care. Rather than just accepting the scale as an imperfect necessity because it’s the only option, a pain specialist suggests taking another look at how you discuss pain with patients. In a blog post on the National Public Radio website, John Markman, MD, director Translational Pain Research Program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry says it may be helpful to ask patients specifically how pain affects them, rather than asking them to give a score that may seem arbitrary or too subjective. Questions like, Is your pain tolerable?, Does your pain make it difficult to sleep?, or Is there anything your pain prevents you from doing? can lend context that helps you choose the most effective, safest pain management options. In addition, ask patients to specify the type of pain they’re experience (eg, burning, throbbing, aching). This may be especially helpful for patients who visit for follow-up care, or who come to you when they can’t see their “regular” physician.
Helping Patients Describe Their Pain Can Help You Treat It Appropriately and Safely