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Responsibilities of a Pain Management Doctor

by Beth Greenwood, studioD

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more Americans suffer from chronic pain than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined. The AAPM says more than100 million Americans have chronic pain. Interventional Pain Management, or IPM, is devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of pain-related disorders. Those who practice this type of medicine have several responsibilities.

Training, Licensing and Certification

Pain management doctors begin their careers as physicians, with four years of undergraduate school, four more of medical school at and least three in residency. Physicians are not trained just in pain management. Many medical specialists, such as anesthesiologists, neurologists, internists and general practitioners, may all go on for specialty training in pain management. All physicians must be licensed by their respective states to practice, but there is no specific licensure for IPM. Board certification in pain management is available from the American Board of Pain Medicine.

Patient Care Duties

When the IPM specialist is providing direct patient care, her first task is to assess the patient and gather information about the patient’s medical history to help make a diagnosis about the cause of the pain. In addition to a complete physical examination, the IPM specialist also assesses the patient’s neurological status by evaluating capabilities such as sensation, reflexes, balance, gait, muscle strength and muscle tone. The IPM specialist might order lab work or diagnostic tests such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI. Other diagnostic tests include nerve condition studies to determine if nerve damage has occurred or electromyography to locate muscle damage.

Coordinating and Planning Care

Each patient with chronic pain has an individualized care plan that includes pain relief, pain reduction and rehabilitation. An IPM specialist often works with a team of medical professionals that includes other physicians, psychologists, nurses, occupational and physical therapists. Although the IPM specialist is often a consultant, she may also be the principal treating physician or direct and coordinate a multidisciplinary team. Depending on her specific role, the IPM specialist could prescribe medications or rehabilitative services, perform pain-relieving procedures, counsel patients and families or provide consultative services to public and private health care agencies.

Other Responsibilities

IPM specialists have responsibilities beyond those of patient care, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. They are expected to educate the public about pain medicine to help eliminate misconceptions and misunderstandings. Some IPM specialists participate in regulatory reform, especially when laws and regulations that apply to pain management -- such as the use of narcotic medication -- are being drafted. The AAPM expects physicians in this specialty to support and advocate for clinical pain research, to treat patients with competence and compassion, and to educate other health care professionals about pain management, pain treatment, substance abuse and addiction.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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