On the Hill

DOs, medical students educate nation’s lawmakers on pain management

Nearly 1,100 DOs and students advocate for non-pharmacological alternatives to pain medication, including OMT.

On Wednesday, DO Day on Capitol Hill brought together nearly 1,100 DOs and osteopathic medical students to educate lawmakers about the integral role DOs can play in combating the nation’s prescription drug epidemic by providing patients with non-pharmacological alternatives to opioids and pain medication.

During small group meetings with senators and representatives, DO Day participants urged lawmakers to:

  • Consider the osteopathic approach to pain management when drafting future legislation addressing the opioid crisis, recognizing the benefits of osteopathic manipulative treatment, which has been shown in studies to provide pain relief for conditions like low back pain.
  • Ensure that legislative efforts to not interfere with the patient-physician relationship.
  • Support the PROP Act of 2016, which would decouple pain-related questions on patient experience surveys from hospital payment calculations in the Medicare program. This would reduce pressure on physicians to prescribe opioids and allow them to consider other avenues of treatment.

Treating pain osteopathically

At a panel discussion before Hill meetings, DO experts shared their perspectives on the osteopathic approach to pain management.

When treating pain, osteopathic physicians frequently invest extra time to figure out its root cause rather than just reach for a prescription pad, said Stephen Scheinthal, DO, the president of the American College of Neurologists and Psychiatrists.

“Maybe the patient’s pain is being caused by something simple,” he said. “Or maybe it’s caused by stress from their personal life, a job situation or family strife.”

Panelist Larry Anderson, DO, agreed, and also stressed the importance of thoroughly understanding a patient’s surroundings.

“When we take care of the whole patient, it’s not from head to toe or fingertip to fingertip,” said Dr. Anderson, who is president of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians. “It means understanding the patient’s whole environment. It means knowing their family, knowing their school situation, knowing their workforce, knowing their environment, and even knowing the air they breathe and the water they drink.”

Natasha Bray, DO, touched on the challenges physicians can face in treating pain—in particular, access to non-pharmacological treatments—and said OMT can be a viable solution. Patient self-management and integrative approaches can also be useful opioid alternatives, she noted.

Margaret Kotz, DO, a past president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine, encouraged DOs to share the osteopathic approach to treating pain with lawmakers on Wednesday.

“We have the privilege of looking not only into our patient’s illnesses, but also into their lives,” she said. “With that privilege, we enter into a covenant to be advocates for their physical, emotional and mental health. I hope you speak loudly about it.”

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