The way in which you communicate with others about your pain can help you better use the resources available to you. In addition, it may improve your ability to manage or cope with your pain. Many people fear talking to their health care provider about pain. Some feel pain symbolizes “personal weakness.” Others fear that revealing the cause of pain or not wanting to take pain medications for fear they will become addicted. Still others may not discuss pain because of cultural reasons. Communication with your healthcare provider is vital. The more information you can give, the better your treatment plan will be for relieving your chronic pain.
It is important that you take an active role in your pain management. Gather information from various sources such as books, articles, medical guides, national organizations and associations, and self help groups. If you are using the internet as one source of information, it is important to note the author of the content (government, agency, individual), the author’s credentials, and date of information provided. It is also valuable to know if the website’s purpose is to sell something.
Doctor Patient Communication
Asking questions is the key to good communication. This can be a challenging task and is best handled with some planning and preparation. As demands on healthcare providers continue to increase, their time with you may be limited. Make the most of this limited time in the office by preparing a list of concerns and questions ahead of time, in order of importance to you. Give your healthcare provider a copy of the list at the beginning of the appointment and let your provider know which concerns are most important to you. Topics to cover should include changes in your condition, your concerns and medications you are taking or may be prescribed in the future.
There are a variety of techniques for communicating effectively with your pain management team. The first basic principle is to describe your pain in detail. For instance, someone may say, “The pain is just awful. It’s so bad I can’t stand it!” Instead it would be more helpful to describe your pain in the following ways:
- How and where you are experiencing pain in as much detail as possible – “It is a sharp, burning pain in the heel and arch of my left foot.”
- How much pain you are having – “On a scale of 0 to 10, it feels around a 5 right now.”
- When and in what situations you are having pain – “I have this pain when I wake up in the morning, but it goes up to about an 8 when I try to walk. I can’t even walk to the next room. Later in the day the pain gets better, but even when I take my medication as prescribed, the pain never gets better than a 3.”
The second basic principle is to be honest and realistic. Your healthcare provider may give you a lot of information. A good way to remember what is said is to take notes and ask for clarification when needed. At the end of the visit you can look back at your notes and repeat important points of the visit. Communicating your understanding of your conversation with your healthcare provider gives your provider a chance to correct any misunderstandings and gives you a chance to clarify information you may be unsure of. Some of these points may include diagnosis, treatment, choices, risk and benefits of treatment and special instructions and follow-up. The following publication may be helpful in planning your next medical visit.
Family and Friends
Involving your family and friends in your treatment plan is another aspect of good communication. You may wish to have a relative or friend accompany you to your healthcare provider visit. Another person listening sometimes helps in remembering what was said. You may have private concerns you want to raise without family or friends in the room. This can be accomplished during or after the physical part of the exam, when family or friends are asked to leave. You may feel more comfortable if family or friends stay in the waiting room. All are fine options, as long as you let them know how you feel and how they can be most helpful to you. Staying connected, letting family and friends know your needs and being honest will help improve relationships. When relationships improve, stress is reduced, often leading to a decrease in pain. Additionally, involving family and friends in your treatment plan will not only help them understand your chronic pain, but make you a better self manager. According to the California Healthcare Foundation, “higher levels of family support are linked to increased patient self-efficacy and decreased patient depressive symptoms.”
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