Balancing Best Practices and Patient Satisfaction

patient satisfactionYou would think that in all cases, giving the patient the optimal treatment plan will result in a satisfied patient. Surprisingly, this is not always the case. In an ideal world, a doctor would have a healthy and satisfied patient, but if they have to sacrifice one for the other, your doctor is going to put your health over your satisfaction.

Balancing the best treatment plan and patient satisfaction is especially tough in the world of chronic pain care. For example, in a recent study of nearly 20,000 people with musculoskeletal pain conditions, individuals who were prescribed opioids to manage their pain were much more satisfied with their care. Individuals who used opioids moderately were 55 percent more likely than non-users to report high levels of care satisfaction, and heavy opioid use was associated with a 43 percent higher likelihood of reporting high satisfaction. The more doctors prescribe, the better the chance patients are satisfied with their care.

The problem with prescribing opioids because it will satisfy patients is that overdose and abuse can set in at any time. Taking opioids for chronic pain is a primary risk factor for dying of an opioid overdose, and an overdose leaves many unsatisfied people in its wake.

Prioritizing Health

As we’ve said on the blog many times in the past and will continue to preach on here, we’re not anti-opioid. Pain medications can play a pivotal role in a pain management plan when closely monitored and administered. Instead, we’re anti doctors who prioritize gaining favor or satisfying patients by prescribing pills when it is not in the patient’s best interest or it is not coupled with active treatment modalities, like exercise, physical therapy or diet changes.

The study that analyzed patient satisfaction also pointed out a major flaw in the healthcare system – doctors are often compensated based on patient satisfaction, either directly on the paycheck, or indirectly in terms of online reviews and word of mouth. So we have a system that rewards doctors for doing what the patient wants, instead of what’s best for the patient. Providing the best care and satisfying the patient don’t always go hand-in-hand in pain management, and when doctors see more benefits in appeasing the patient than doing what’s best for them, it’s the patient who suffers.

Doctors are a lot like personal trainers at the gym. You aren’t going to grow muscles by wearing an ab band and sitting on your couch, you have to pick up some weights and put in the work. The same goes for treating your chronic pain condition. There is no magic pill that will allow you to heal without putting in the work on your end. You might not like your doctor at the end of the day, but if you find a good doctor, you’ll know that they truly do have your best interests in mind. Down the road, you’ll thank them.

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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).

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