3 Characteristics of a Good Pain Medicine Doctor

If you have ever had to search for a new doctor because your GP retired or moved away, you know what a challenging task it can be. Finding a good GP with whom you can be on the same page is near the top of a list of the hardest things in healthcare. Now imagine having to find a pain medicine doctor. Good specialists are even harder to come by.


Pain medicine is a specialty designed to help people living with chronic pain. Pain medicine doctors undergo extra education and training to get a better understanding of pain’s mechanisms, root causes, and long-term effects. They often have access to treatments that a family doctor or GP knows nothing about.


Here is the big question for this post: how do you know when you have found a good pain medicine doctor? We all have our own standards of what constitutes ‘good’. But from my own personal experience, a good pain medicine doctor offers the following three characteristics:


1. A Determination to Improve Function


At the top of my list is the determination to improve function. Texas-based Lone Star Pain Medicine has a nice little blurb on their website explaining the basics of restoring function. As they see it, restoring function increases a patient’s wellbeing. In turn, this leads to a patient leading a more full and productive life.


This is incredibly important. When a chronic pain patient allows their pain to determine how daily life is lived, there is a natural tendency to avoid those things that cause pain. Over time, physical function is lost because the affected body part is not being used. As more function is lost, the pain tends to increase. A patient is left stuck in a vicious cycle that never ends.


On the other hand, restoring function tends to contribute to pain relief. But it also contributes to improved wellbeing because a patient can start resuming normal activities. That is good for a patient both physically and mentally.


2. A Willingness to Consider Emerging Therapies


A typical pain medicine doctor will recommend alternative therapies like spinal cord stimulation, shoulder joint injections, and celiac plexus blocks. To me, that is the baseline. A good pain medicine doctor is willing to look beyond the treatments he already knows to consider emerging treatments as well.


Stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are two examples of emerging therapies. Stem cell therapy provides the raw materials a hurting body needs to repair itself. Meanwhile, PRP injections work to jump-start the body’s natural healing response. Both show promise for treating everything from degenerative disk disease to osteoarthritis to musculoskeletal injuries.


It seems to me that doctors who avoid emerging therapies fail to realize that every traditional therapy was emerging at one point. Avoiding an emerging therapy only leads to it taking longer to become mainstream. To me, emerging therapies should be on the table as long as they are safe.


3. A Commitment to Individualized Treatment Plans


Last, and perhaps most importantly, I believe a good pain medicine doctor shows a demonstrable commitment to individualized treatment plans. If there is one thing that I have learned through my experiences with chronic pain is that no two patients are exactly alike. Therefore, their treatment plans should not be identical. Each patient needs to be treated as an individual without any deference to one-size-fits-all treatments.


You may have your own ideas about the characteristics of a good pain medicine doctor. For my money though, any doctor who exhibits these three characteristics is way ahead of the competition.

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