Expert offers strategies for treating pain

Nobody should have to live with pain.

But chronic, nonmalignant pain affects 85 million men and women to the tune of $75 billion in health care costs and lost wages. The elderly are especially vulnerable to pain, because many fear side effects or addiction from medication, or they think pain is simply a consequence of getting old.

Those are some of the findings Regina Fink is sharing with health care providers in Northwest Colorado.

Fink, a research nurse scientist with the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver, is visiting hospitals and nursing homes in Routt, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties as part of an educational outreach by the Western Colorado Area Health Education Center.

Jane Foster, the center's nursing director, conducted a training needs assessment and local health care professionals requested more information on pain management.

Fink delivered a one-hour presentation to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and emergency medical technicians Monday at The Memorial Hospital. On Tuesday, she met briefly with the staff at Sandrock Ridge Care and Rehabilitation to share findings of a study on pain

During the past three years, the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, a government-funded research agency, has funded a study of 12 Colorado nursing homes to determine what kinds of procedures and protocols they have for assessing and managing pain in their patients.

"We've tried to change the culture of how pain is managed and how nurses can mange pain better," Fink said.

One simple step is to establish a specific time to ask patients how they are feeling, be it every shift or every day. That way, a physician has a record on which he can look back.

It's important to diagnose the right kind of pain, because certain medications don't alleviate pain in all situations. For example, Vicodin doesn't alleviate all pain the same way. Nerve pain, bone pain and visceral pain should be treated differently, Fink said.

But her principal message was that it's OK to talk about pain.

Talking about pain helps professionals assess the pain, which helps them relieve pain, she said.

And for those unable to articulate their pain level, Fink's team has developed tools and procedures to help nurses pick up on non-verbal cues such as grimacing, crying out or jitteriness.

Fink will return to Craig on Dec. 2 for an inservice training for employees of the nursing home.

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