Ask pain patients about alternative therapies

Most chronic pain sufferers (60 percent) have tried alternative therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic care, but more than a third didn't tell their medical doctors about it, according to a survey of more than 6,000 patients treated for chronic pain at Kaiser Permanente Northwest. The research, published in the American Journal of Managed Care, also noted that for 25 percent of patients using acupuncture and 43 percent of those using chiropractic care, this information was missing from their electronic medical records.

"This is really important because chronic pain is a complex condition so the care needs to be well coordinated," Charles Elder, M.D., the lead author and a Kaiser primary care physician, told Oregon Live. "I would speculate that the patient might not realize that the conversation could be of importance, or might be concerned that the physician might be hostile to alternative care."

While Kaiser does not have any chiropractors or acupuncturists on staff, patients are allowed to self-refer to such practitioners on their own. Often physicians don't ask about such therapies and therefore don't learn about them unless the patient volunteers the information.

Better coordination of care for chronic pain is important for several reasons, including enhancing physicians' and health plans' ability to learn about what does and doesn't work for this population. With greater insight, doctors will be better equipped to recommend effective treatments the patient may not have tried, the Oregon Live article explained.

"Clinicians should also consider direct communication with acupuncturists and chiropractors about patients they are co-managing," the study authors wrote. "This may allow better coordination of care and potentially improve outcomes."

To learn more:
- read the article
- see the study