Nashville hospitals take aim at opioid crisis by adjusting approach to pain management

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Mike Schlosser, M.D., chief medical officer for HCA National Group, says he now explains to patients that he will treat their pain but they should expect some level of discomfort because narcotics that eliminate all pain will put them at risk for addiction. (Getty/smartstock)

In the wake of the opioid crisis, hospitals in the Nashville area are now warning patients that they may have to deal with some pain following surgery or other procedures. 

David Alfery, M.D, a Nashville anesthesiologist and part of the working group at the regional consulting firm Health Trust, told Nashville Public Radio that patients have developed unrealistic expectations about post-surgical pain management. As a result, the Hospital Corporation of America-owned TriStar Centennial Medical Center has implemented a new protocol that requires surgeons to have difficult conversations with their patients about opioid addiction. 

Mike Schlosser, M.D., chief medical officer for HCA National Group, told the publication that he explains to patients that he will treat their pain but they should expect some level of discomfort because narcotics that eliminate all pain will put them at risk for addiction. 

RELATED: Investigation finds more than 1,000 doctors disciplined for risky opioid prescribing 

It's not easy for physicians to strike a balance between meeting the pain management needs of patients and preventing addiction. Many doctors have not had training on effective pain management, and may be confused by guidelines to reduce prescriptions for powerful painkillers. Another wrinkle is that patient satisfaction surveys, like the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), include pain management questions. . 

Brentwood, Tennessee-based LifePoint Hospitals are also taking a new look at pain management and flag potential opioid addicts in the emergency department, according to the article. But, being the hospital that cuts down on prescriptions can be a tough business proposition, John Young, the system's national medical director for cardiovascular services, told NPR.