Reflections from the 2017 Provincial Pain Summit

3 April 2017

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by Howard Searle

On behalf of ME|FM Society of BC I attended the Provincial Pain Summit held 17 – 19 February 2017 at the Mariott Vancouver Pinnacle. This second Summit (the first in 2011) facilitated an open dialogue among about 200 people including those affected by chronic pain and caregivers dedicated to improving the lives of people living with pain. The conference provided opportunities for identifying experiences and treatments with positive outcomes, as well as difficulties or problems experienced by sufferers of chronic pain. Armed with this information, ideas for improvements in strategies and treatment algorithms were brainstormed by five subsets of participants in concurrent workshops on day 2. The final day of the Summit was designed to obtain commitments from decision-makers in BC’s health-care system to implement the best ideas that were put forward.

The Friday evening session had a panel of five chronic pain sufferers passionately tell their stories of how their pain began, how it affected their lives and what they are doing to deal with it. Their stories were thoughtfully reflected and commented on by Maria Hudspith, Executive Director of Pain BC, and by Dr Michael Maereff, a founding member of Pain BC.

It was interesting to hear people tell their stories, and to see the common themes that emerged: chronic pain is a lonely and isolating condition, and one that is not readily validated or believed by physicians. It can feel like you are “going crazy”, especially if you are told that the pain is “all in your head.” There are many roadblocks to accessing the right medical care to address the pain, and the process can take a very long time. You can get “stuck” in a mental state with depression, grave doubts about yourself and your future; and it takes a lot of courage to talk about the mental and physical distress you are experiencing with chronic pain.

Most significantly, these patients expressed that their greatest needs were to feel validated about their experience of chronic pain, and to be empowered to take responsibility for their own care journey, by being provided with an array of tools and treatment options. Many affected persons have come to the understanding that there is no “finish line” with chronic pain, that it is a never ending journey with highs and lows along the way, and so their goal is to make the best of it however they can.

Saturday’s discussions commenced with an overview of how Pain BC got started and the work that they do. They believe that pain doesn’t have to be a barrier to living a full life. Whether you’re living with pain, supporting someone in pain, or providing care to patients in pain, Pain BC is a great resource and has an excellent website to help you.

Here’s what they do:

Promote prevention and early intervention in chronic pain and pain-related disability

Educate, promote skill development, and build hope and confidence among people living with pain and their families

Empower health care providers with the education, tools, and skills they need to improve the lives of people living with pain

Facilitate planning, action, evaluation, and innovation leading to service system change.

Engage a cross-sectoral coalition in collective action to raise awareness of chronic pain and reduce the stigma associated with it
Foster and encourage pain and pain-related disability research

The Summit featured an introduction to a novel method for reducing pain: choir practice! Adeptly led by singer Vanessa Richards, conference attendees were gradually inducted into two groups that ended up simultaneously singing different songs in harmony with each other. While I was dubious and timid at first, the session turned out to be very enjoyable and to my amazement, my chronic aches and pains were much reduced when we were done. Vanessa encouraged everyone to overcome their fear of singing and join a local choir for enjoyment for its mental and physical health benefits, including reduction of chronic pain. Vanessa Richards leads the Woodward’s Community Singers a free, weekly drop-in, non-auditioned choir in Vancouver. Watch them on YouTube here.

Saturday afternoon hosted five concurrent breakout sessions to solve problems dealing with chronic pain in seniors, vulnerable populations, rural areas, primary care, and pharmacological management.

The final day of the conference was restricted to decision-makers within the BC health-care system, whose task was to transform the best suggestions from the previous day into commitments for implementation. Here’s what they committed to do:

Create pain management training for Allied Healthcare providers

Create a Pain Program within Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH)

Develop a stewardship program for pain medications including opioids

Create billing codes so that doctors have the time to treat complex chronic pain.

Create a strategy for the public reframing of opioid use, addiction and pain

Create a BC Pain Agency that would be a central resource.

Develop and promote self-management in all BC communities

Establish a unified approach to chronic pain education in primary care

Develop trauma informed care in every pain program

Enable early intervention, beginning in the community

BC Health Minister, the Honourable Dr. Terry Lake, also attended the Sunday session. He committed to preparing the groundwork for a provincial pain strategy, and to encouraging all BC Health Authorities to develop more tools for addressing complex and chronic pain.

The Pain BC team has committed to track actions against commitments made and to report milestones through their website, social media channels, and monthly newsletter. Pain BC also hopes to engage the public to help raise chronic pain and the Provincial Pain Strategy as an election issue. Considering the commitments that were made, the 2017 Pain BC Summit was very successful.

The full report of the Summit is available on the Pain BC website.

Read this follow up press release from the Ministry of Health that resulted from the Summit: PAIN BC RECEIVES $1.5 MILLION TO SUPPORT PROVINCIAL PAIN SUMMIT OUTCOMES.