Chronic pain is cited as the number one reason why Americans visit a physician. It is a leading cause of disability and is a major contributor to healthcare costs. In fact, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. According to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences), chronic pain affects more than 100 million American adults.
Both chronic pain and prescription opioid abuse are quite prevalent in the United States and continue to exact a heavy toll on patients and physicians. Individuals with chronic pain and co-occurring substance use disorders or mental health disorders are at a higher risk for misuse of prescribed opioids. The confidence level of practitioners prescribing opium for chronic pain is very important. A new survey report revealed that physicians who prescribe opioids aren’t confident or are only somewhat confident about managing patients on opioid painkillers.
The report that found widespread gaps in education about opiate safety was released by the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and myCME, Haymarket Medical Education’s global medical education website. As part of the survey, data was collected from about 800 registered physicians (registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe Schedule II and III controlled substances). The key findings of the survey include:
- Only 25% of certified physicians were “very confident” about their skills to safely manage patients using pain medications.
- About a quarter (28%) of the physicians did not complete certified medical education (CME) in safe drug prescription. In addition, many physicians revealed that they lacked the time or staff to implement an opioid monitoring system for patients such as drug testing and pill counts.
- More than 90% physicians revealed that being knowledgeable about opioid therapy is important.
Safe Opioid Prescription Training – Why Is It Important?
The main reason behind low confidence levels in physicians could be the result of little to no training focusing on safe drug prescription and management. Lack of knowledge regarding some narcotics, concerns of dealing with patients who appear to be drug seeking and lack of time to follow patients closely make physicians hesitant to prescribe drugs. In addition, practitioners may not have the tools to effectively communicate the issue of misuse with patients and there is limited access to other treatments for managing chronic pain. That’s why education is so critical. Creating better awareness of online training platforms can prove to be an ideal solution.
Better access to continuing education that focuses on web-based educational programs will enable pain management specialists to prescribe opiate therapy while reducing overdose risks. These specialists need to be trained in using validated tools and improve clinical skills and confidence in safely prescribing opioids and implementing strategies that will help maximize benefit and minimize harms related to drug misuse.
These web-based educational programs for practitioners cover areas such as patient education and counseling, monitoring for benefit and misuse after prescription, importance of clear documentation, multi-dimensional approach for managing pain for all patients and managing patients who develop signs of drug misuse, addiction or both.
To promote safe opioid prescription practices, about 65% of survey respondents revealed that they follow effective practices such as accurate documentation in patient medical records, patient prescriber pain agreements, prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) and patient education and communication tools.
Even though 90% physicians believe that having adequate knowledge in opiate therapy is crucial, patients aren’t deterred by the country’s growing opioid epidemic. While patients understand that others may become addicted or overdose, they are in denial about how this risk may apply to themselves. In fact, many patients don’t appreciate that opioids have limited efficacy for chronic pain and may not be the best treatment for everyone who suffers from chronic pain. Undoubtedly, better educated physicians can better educate patients.