Resources for Managing Patients With Chronic Pain

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Clinical Pain Advisor interviewed Penney Cowan, founder and chief executive officer of the ACPA to learn more about the importance of the ACPA's resource for HCPs.

The Toolkit for Healthcare Professionals was recently published by the Partners for Understanding Pain, a partnership initiated by the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA).1 This document aims to provide healthcare practitioners (HCPs) with resources to improve the care of their patients with pain.

Clinical Pain Advisor interviewed Penney Cowan, founder and chief executive officer of the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), to learn more about the importance of this resource for HCPs.

Clinical Pain Advisor: How does the toolkit fill the gap for HCPs when it comes to managing chronic pain? What is its main value?

Penney Cowan: The toolkit is a repository for quality, easy to access information that is available free of charge to everyone. The ACPA has been around for 37 years, and the organization is careful to provide accurate information to HCPs so that they do not have to sift through the massive amount of information out there and figure out which sources are reliable.

Clinical Pain Advisor: What was the impetus for the development of this resource? How did you come up with the concept, and were there difficulties getting it off the ground?

Penney Cowan: The current toolkit is not the first edition — it was established in September 2001 for the ACPA’s initial Pain Awareness Month — and the ACPA drove the initiative for the first 6 years, which was initially called “Partners for Understanding Pain.”

During the second year of the initiative, Ms. Cowan and her colleagues had face-to-face meetings at the American Pain Society’s (APS) annual meeting, during which they sat down with clinicians to talk about a toolkit that would gather all available information regarding the management of chronic pain in one place.

As a result of these conversations, a form was developed and sent out. The first year, the 200-page resource was aimed at nurses, and was in the form of hard copies and CDs containing all information — 1700 printouts were distributed.

The following year, the toolkit was targeted at pharmacists, and also included a “care card,” providing advice on how to communicate with patients. The goal was to drive people back to the pharmacy. This version was continually updated for a number of years.

Penney Cowan decided to involve herself in education initiatives for pain, but in 2016 re-engaged with the toolkit. In her absence, many of the partners that had been involved in putting this resource together had moved on. She had to gather the information again to create the current edition of the toolkit.

Clinical Pain Advisor: The toolkit emphasizes the importance of outreach and community events, as well as advocacy for increased funding for pain research and training of HCPs. Do you believe such grassroots efforts can have a significant impact? 

Penney Cowan: Every voice counts — anyone who does anything is doing a positive thing. Pain itself is often looked at as a secondary issue — what is causing the pain is what is examined. Clinicians often forget about pain. Although categorized by the APS as the fifth vital sign in 1996,2 the American Medical Association dropped this classification of pain in June 2016 in response to the opioid epidemic.

Clinical Pain Advisor: What are the most critical aspects of this toolkit?   

Penney Cowan: One of the most critical aspects is that it is the result of the collaboration of many different organizations. In addition, the toolkit provides high quality information, accessible to all, thus offering a valuable resource to both patients and providers.

Many years ago, pain management was provided by multidisciplinary programs to which patients had easy access. This aspect of pain management is mostly lost nowadays, and providers are not trained in this discipline. There need to be efforts toward including pain management in medical curricula.

Clinical Pain Advisor: Have you garnered positive feedback from HCPs, patients, or organizations regarding the toolkit?

Penney Cowan: Yes! We have gotten a great deal of positive feedback from all these entities, who find it very helpful, and acknowledge the effort that was put into creating it.

Clinical Pain Advisor: How is the toolkit currently being used? Is it solely aimed at clinical practices, or also at academia?

Penney Cowan: Academics as well as clinicians are using the toolkit. It also provides resources including information regarding research, journals, and pain-related associations.

Penney Cowan added that the ACPA reviews the information they receive from anyone, so it can be included in the 2017 version if appropriate.

Find out more about how this toolkit can help you in the management of your patients here.

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  1. The American Chronic Pain Association. Toolkit for healthcare professionals: activities and resources. Accessed January 11, 2017.
  2. American Pain Society. Principles of Analgesic Use in the Treatment of Acute Pain and Cancer Pain. 4. Glenview, IL: American Pain Society; 1999.