Changing the Pain Conversation

National Pain Strategy Task Force recommendations will be out soon for public comment.

NATIONAL HARBOR – Recommendations from the National Pain Strategy Task Force are expected to be out soon be out for public comment, but before their approval and official release by HHS, a number of representatives from that task force spoke here at the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s 31st Annual Meeting to discuss the framework  and goals under which the recommendations were developed.

Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, with Stanford School of Medicine led the panel discussion, which reviewed the task force’s goals. Their final recommendations will be available when the report is released by HHS for comment. He noted that the report is expected to be released soon, and urged the audience in attendance of the Plenary Session to weigh in once the report is made available.

The task force was formed in response to recommendations in the 2011 Institute of Medicine Report – Relieving Pain In America – and aims to develop a strategic plan to  “change the conversation on pain.” The report is meant to make recommendations with measurable deliverables that could be achieved in a short time span.

Mackey noted that the IOM report “provided a blueprint for relieving pain in America,” outlining some core issues. The report noted that pain affects at least 100 million American adults and that it costs this country in the billions of dollars financially. It also has other costs, including the individual patient’s quality of life. 

Linda Porter, PhD, with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who also spoke on the panel, said the task force focused on several areas that were highlighted in the IOM Report’s recommendations, and formed groups based on those areas, including: professional education and training, prevention and care, public education, service delivery and reimbursement, population research, and disparities.

Representatives from each group spoke on each of these areas. Regarding population research, that group’s central focus has been on improving state and national data as they relate to pain prevalence. Porter noted that the group is working under the umbrella concept that there “should be synergy in how chronic pain data are collected in morbidity surveys and electronic health records.”

This panel also noted the importance of establishing questions for non-clinical settings to assess the prevalence of high impact chronic pain at the population level.

Regarding service delivery and reimbursement, the focus has largely been on “evidence-based integrated multimodal care and interdiscinipary team care of people with chronic pain,” that defines future payment and incentivizes collaboration across health care specialties.

Regarding professional training, several group members agreed that one priority needs to be more access to materials on pain prevention and treatment, and to accomplish that, they are focusing on expanding interdisciplinary education in pain and palliative care across professional disciplines.

Penny Cowan, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the American Chronic Pain Association, discussed education as a necessary component to approaching pain. Caring for patients with pain also means addressing how they manage their pain medications, and the public awareness group  included discussion on educating patients about their medications – from proper dosing, to safe storage and use.

She said the main focus of the public education group is to develop a comprehensive public education campaign that informs about chronic pain.

A common theme across all the panels that emerged was changing the overall societal discussion on pain.

“Education programs for patients and the public are needed to promote a transformation in their expectations and beliefs about pain,” Cowan said. An understanding of pain’s consequences, management and prevention are needed to make that transformation.” 


1. Mackey S, et al. Keynote Presentation. “National Pain Strategy Task Force: A Strategy to Transform Pain Prevention, Care, Education and Research.” Presented at: AAPM 2015. March 19-22, 2015; National Harbor, Maryland.