Anesthesiologists Managing Chronic Pain: Continuing Education Needed

Opportunities for education focused on improvement in clinical knowledge and skill are needed as more specialists participate in multidisciplinary teams to assist in the management of chronic pain.

With chronic pain affecting the quality of life of more than 40% of the population in the United States,1 healthcare professionals managing and treating the condition are faced with evolving challenges.

Chronic pain is a complex problem that requires a multidisciplinary approach to patient care.2 A single specialist cannot manage a patient in isolation; anesthesiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists must all work together to care properly for patients with chronic pain. More often than not, an anesthesiologist certified in pain medicine acts as the captain of this multidisciplinary team.

Anesthesiologists have a long history of managing pain.3 Thirty years ago, anesthesiologists working in the operating room (OR) realized that some of the pain management procedures they performed—including nerve blocks and epidurals—were useful for managing pain outside of the OR. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education established the first formal pain medicine subspecialty training programs in 1992. The following year, the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) delivered the first pain medicine subspecialty examination, with the understanding that pain management is a multidisciplinary practice requiring special training, knowledge, and skills. The ABA helped design subspecialty training programs to prepare anesthesiologists for board certification and clinical practice in pain medicine. 

Initial training through fellowship programs provides the foundational knowledge clinicians need to perform in this specialty, particularly because it does not resemble what has traditionally been thought of as anesthetic care. Anesthesiologists specializing in pain medicine are trained to understand the individual role of each member of the multidisciplinary team, to identify common pain problems, to identify a wide range of treatment options, and to know which treatments are likely to work and which ones will not.

It is imperative, however, for physician anesthesiologists leading these teams to partake in continuing education so they can manage complex cases and provide optimal patient care. Although I have amassed more than 20 years in practice, I still learn something new each day and with each patient I encounter. As practicing professionals, clinicians pursue traditional continuing medical education courses to learn new concepts and how to apply those learnings into clinical practice.  Online courses are now available where clinicians can read an article or watch a video, and then answer questions to demonstrate an understanding of the material.