Pain management needs to go beyond traditional treatment

Hydrocodone opioid pills
While Congress takes steps to curb opioid use, insurers need to expand coverage of nonmedication treatments, according to American Specialty Health officials. (Getty/smartstock)

While the government and insurers are taking steps to curb opioid prescriptions and enhance treatments, nonmedication pain management needs to be pumped up as well. 

That's the recommendation from leaders of San Diego-based health improvement company American Specialty Health (ASH), including co-founder, chairman and CEO George DeVries and Chief Health Services Officer Douglas Metz, M.D. The group spoke with FierceHealthcare last month at the annual AHIP conference in San Diego.

The group's focus is getting insurers and providers to adopt more nonpharmaceutical approaches to pain management, including online tools, apps and digital coaching.

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"There are many new treatments that are coming out now that physicians know nothing about, and neither do patients," DeVries said. "These are great alternatives to all groups facing pain."

RELATED: How providers, payers can change the conversation about pain management

The group specifically pushed acupuncture as an alternative to traditional medication and treatment. 

And while treatments like this typically aren't covered under most commercial plans, ASH said that could be coming down the pipe soon. 

"Insurers are inching towards these alternative pain management treatments," Metz. "They are looking at potential solutions, and if these treatments lead to improvements, we could see more coverage."

RELATED: Little-discussed ‘collateral’: Patients with chronic pain lose access to needed medications

And while insurers and the government might need time before warming to specific alternative treatments, providers can begin harnessing technology that is already available. The group added that the expanding telehealth will better connect physicians with patients to improve medication monitoring.

Some of the recent opioid crisis legislation that cleared the House includes removing geographic limitations for the use of telehealth in treating substance abuse disorder.

But improving coverage is only one step. The group noted that educating physicians on these alternative treatments is crucial to increasing their use and popularity. 

"If I was a physician, and I didn't know about these treatments, I obviously couldn't recommend them," DeVries added.