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The Longevity Network 02/28/2017

Beyond a “One-Size-Fits-All” Approach to Chronic Pain

As it stands, more than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain. And while the United States spends $600 billion annually on the direct and indirect costs of chronic pain, more than half of people with chronic pain report inadequate pain control. The numbers are alarming.

This is especially important to be aware of when thinking of older adults, where the prevalence of chronic pain is highest. Since the bulk of our national health care spending is on this age group, both the potential impact on lives and economy is massive.

I’d argue that one of the primary reasons for America’s struggle with treating pain is not any one component, it is the one-size-fits-all approach.

Understanding Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a complex biopsychosocial condition, which means that it involves the interplay of biological (e.g., tissue damage, disease, genetics), psychological (e.g., anxiety, depression) and social (e.g., cultural, financial, access to care) factors. As such, chronic pain is a uniquely personal condition that affects each sufferer differently. For some, the primary issue is the direct experience of pain – the pain intensity. However, for most, the impact of chronic pain is felt through its deterioration of quality of life, such as sleep, activity, mood and general health.

Because of this, a one-size-fits-all approach (meaning a single treatment method often prescribed by a doctor) may be destined to fail. This method of treating patients, often in the form of prescription pain medications (e.g. opioids) does not address the unique and complex profile of the individual person, and often comes with undesirable side effects. Instead, treatments should be adjusted accordingly – especially for the 50+ population that is seeking to maintain a high quality of life with fewer medications.

To do this, health technology innovators will play a big role in changing how chronic pain is treated.

To start, a key piece to the puzzle is digital medicine. A good example of this is the growing approach of precision medicine, which is defined as “a medical model that proposes the customization of healthcare, with medical decisions, practices, and/or products being tailored to the individual patient.” Precision medicine has the ability to tailor the solution to the individual, incorporating conventional treatments that are appropriate for each patient.

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