‘Alarming’ pain statistics highlight need for education


woman at desk with headache

One in four Australians with body pain would rather see a pharmacist than a doctor – but are pharmacists ready to help them?

Australia has the highest rate of weekly body pain of 32 countries surveyed, new results from the 2017 Global Pain Index have shown.

Weekly body pain affects 68% of Australians, the results showed; of those surveyed, workers took an average of 3.3 sick days each year for body pain and 1.4 sick days for head pain. Nearly half of workers (48%) blamed their work environment for their head or body pain.

The results showed an increasing preference for self-diagnosis, both in Australia and overseas and particularly among young adults: 42% of respondents said they had self-diagnosed the cause of their body pain and 66% said they had self-diagnosed the cause of their head pain.

One in four consult a pharmacist rather than a doctor to address new types of body pain or head pain—highlighting the role that pharmacists play, and the need for education in pain management for pharmacists and other allied health professionals.

There is also a preference for over-the-counter medicines, with 63% preferring it for head pain and 48% preferring it for body pain.

Prescription medicine was used in only 1.4 in 10 occasions of treatment for head pain.

“The trend towards self-diagnosis and self-medication is cause for concern, and points to the need for better education for allied health professionals, particularly pharmacists, and greater access to education about pain management and the role of medication, for consumers,” says Painaustralia CEO Lesley Brydon.

She called the amount of pain being suffered in the community a “health crisis”.

Clinical pharmacist Joyce McSwan, PainWISE program founder, pain educator and Persistent Pain Program manager at the Gold Coast Primary Health Network, told the AJP that “the clinical confidence out there though does not seem to meet up to the public’s expectations”. 

“In nearly every state that I recently presented in with the PainWISE program, this one question kept being asked of me: ‘Can a community pharmacist actually suggest an alternative drug to the patient? Isn’t that the HMR pharmacist’s role? Won’t we be stepping on the turf of GPs?’

“My question back was: ‘If it is not the role of the pharmacist (other than the GPs), then whose is it?’ It is concerning indeed!

“With these alarming statistics, the problem of pain management is not going to just go away on its own.”

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