‘Stop the 50 million questions – listen and help’

woman holding neck in pain

This is just one of the many responses to Chronic Pain Australia’s 2018 National Pain Survey, released for the start of National Pain Week

People living with chronic pain rely heavily on pharmacists but often feel judged and disrespected, a new survey has revealed.

Results of Chronic Pain Australia’s annual National Pain Week survey, released to mark the beginning of National Pain Week (23-29 July), highlight the ongoing struggle of people living with chronic pain to be heard and understood.

One in five Australians live with chronic pain – more than four million people – yet survey respondents report that they continue to face stigma and negative attitudes from healthcare professionals including pharmacists and GPs, as well as from the wider community.

Of the more than 1,200 respondents:

  • 86% responded that they face stigma and/or negative attitudes due to their chronic pain
  • 75% would like their GP to prescribe cannabis to treat their pain
  • 87% found accessing health professionals other than their GP (e.g. physio, psychologist, nurse, dietitian, pain specialist, etc) prohibitively expensive
  • 70% disagreed with the Australian Government’s decision to up-schedule codeine
  • 93% were not aware of the Pain MedsCheck program being rolled out through local pharmacies
  • 6% stated they did not feel that the Australian Government was doing enough to support people living with chronic pain

Survey respondents reported that pharmacists were central to their pain management journey, however many people said they had experienced issues around maintaining their privacy and dignity, and being listened to without judgement.

When asked what they would like their pharmacists to understand specifically, some stand-out responses include:

“Don’t judge me – you don’t know my pain better than me or my doctor.”

“Respect the privacy of the person and their scripts. Pharmacists need to understand it’s not OK to ask questions in front of other customers.”

“Stop the 50 million questions, listen and help.”

“I appreciate you checking how my medication is going, but I don’t want you to tell the whole shop what medications I’m on.”

“It’s no use asking me in the pharmacy why my doctor has made such a decision about my medication and dosage, I’m the patient, not the doctor.”

Just give me what I need and don’t talk to me as though I’m up to no good. We’re treated like criminals and given 20 questions before they decide whether or not to help you. I don’t ask very often, only when I’m desperate. I’m on their system so they would know if I were getting things too often – which I don’t.”

“Listen and hear what we have to say, we fight this battle every day, sometimes a simple trip to the pharmacy just makes the battle harder.”

“Smile without prejudice or judgement and offer alternative therapies.”

“I tried several chemists in our area until I found one that treated me as a person with an ongoing pain management issue, and not as an addicted brain dead dope head.”

“When a pharmacist is talking with someone who has chronic pain, it is important to remember that this is a person whose goal is to reduce pain and its impact on their life in partnership with their health professional,” Chronic Pain Australia tells AJP.

“The pharmacist should have the same goal. While ensuring safe and effective use of medication is a pharmacist’s responsibility, they can do this with empathy, understanding and knowledge about what resources are available for people in pain, rather than asking distant or judgemental questions.

“People experiencing pain need their pharmacist to be familiar with information and resources for chronic pain and treatment options.

“This includes new developments, tried-and-true strategies, non-medicine therapies, and the names & locations of allied health professionals in the catchment who also work with people experiencing chronic pain.

“Chronic Pain Australia is an important resource for pharmacists in enabling up-to-date knowledge of current strategies for assisting people who experience chronic pain.

“Referral to the Chronic Pain Australia’s free 24/7 forum is a bonus for pharmacists. Non-judgemental support and friendship found in the forum reduces the isolation experienced by people living with pain and can prevent and deflect suicidal thoughts.

“The take home message is that people experiencing chronic pain are not faceless case studies; they are real people who experience a debilitating condition that is punishing to live with and difficult to understand for those who have not experienced it.

“Understanding, empathy, knowledge, and expertise are attributes that people with chronic pain are looking for from their pharmacist. When you see the individual in front of you as a person not a condition, then you can be this pharmacist for them.”

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  1. Debbie Rigby

    Clear messages there from consumers about privacy in community pharmacies, especially when discussing chronic pain and potentially associated mental health issues. Communication and compassion are so important in supporting patients living with chronic pain.

    I recently attended a Roundtable meeting at Parliament House with the Health Minister, organised by painaustralia. Knowledgeable practitioners is a priority in the National Pain Strategy. Skilled professionals and best-practice evidence-based care, and access to interdisciplinary care are key goals in the National Pain Strategy in 2010. National Pain Week is an opportune time to reflect on our conversations with consumers this week in the pharmacy.

    Ask yourself:

    “Am I up-to-date and understand the biopsychosocial model of chronic pain management”
    “Do I provide resources to patients to help them better understand chronic pain (eg NPS MedicineWise, painaustralia, FPM, Chronic Pain Australia)”
    “Do I discuss the risks and benefits of opioids (including codeine) in chronic pain”
    “What non-pharmacological interventions can I recommend in my local area”

    Chronic pain management is complex and undergoing a paradigm shift – maybe it’s time for some self-directed CPD in this area.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      The roundtable meeting sounds interesting. Were there any community pharmacists in attendance? Hopefully there were some people there who have a lived experience with chronic pain.

      When we wrote this article, Chronic Pain Australia were seeking to help pharmacists see the interaction from the viewpoint of the individual who is experiencing pain.

      Pharmacists need to forget about policing medicine supply and improve on patient centred care – which means no stereotyping, overcoming stigma, and working with individuals to find the best outcome for them.

      Chronic Pain Australia is unique among peak bodies, health charities, and non-government organisations in that is has provided a forum for he voices of thousands of people living with chronic pain. This allows Chronic Pain Australia to represent the views of people living with pain in Australia. This means pharmacists can have confidence that the viewpoints shown in this media release are those of real people.

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