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What Needs to Be Said About Our Medical System During Pain Awareness Month

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This Pain Awareness Month, I’m going to say something that’s been said before, but bears repeating. Our health system is broken, especially when it comes to treating people with chronic pain, or any chronic condition for that matter.

In the past year and two months, I have been to more than 15 doctors in my quest to find adequate treatment for my facial pain, or ways to handle the side effects of both the pain and the medication. That’s not even counting the complementary and alternative treatment providers I see. And I’m aware that the number of providers I’ve seen probably pales in comparison to those who have been in pain for much longer than I have.

In my experience, physicians have been so specialized that they are unable to address more than a piece of the puzzle that is my pain. The referrals I receive are rarely helpful, so I spend my time (and my family’s time) researching health care providers, filling out onerous intake forms, and scheduling appointments — which are usually only available Monday through Thursday, during working hours. My providers have rarely communicated with each other (even though I’ve consented to this communication), and their opinions on treatment options are often conflicting, leaving me to search the medical literature and make my own decisions. Basically, no one seems to know “who’s on first.”

I often have to jump through hoops and deal with disgruntled office staff to get copies of my medical records or tests, many of which cost money. I shuttle these between appointments, along with a list of my medications and dosages. And yet, my medications are often recorded incorrectly, prescriptions aren’t necessarily called in on time, and interactions aren’t always checked.

Don’t even get me started on health insurance. Luckily, I’m fortunate to have a pretty good policy, but there’s always some excuse as to why a visit or medication wasn’t covered. Fairly standard tests and medications often require pre-authorization, and I have to follow up with the insurance company or my doctor’s office (or both) to make sure the authorization is obtained. Even if I’m going to pay out-of-pocket for one procedure, I can’t have that procedure during an appointment that is covered by insurance, requiring me to schedule another appointment altogether. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, which is one of the few things that seems to help me manage my pain, aren’t covered at all.

Even for someone who is highly educated and well-off financially, all of this can be a daunting task. What happens to the millions of other Americans who may not be in my same position? What happens to those who aren’t able to take off work for doctors’ appointments, aren’t able to pay out-of-pocket for therapies that help them, and don’t have the tools or time to make sure their medications and care are being managed correctly? Unfortunately, I think I know the answer, and it’s unacceptable.

A version of this story was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Originally published: September 7, 2016
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