Current research in British Columbia estimates that one in every five adults suffers from chronic pain.
According to Pain BC, chronic pain, or pain that is persistent for more than three months, is associated with some of the worst quality of life as compared to other chronic illnesses or diseases. Living with chronic pain can be a real struggle for Canadians across the nation but a group of health care professionals in the Elk Valley are trying to improve care for chronic pain patients in our community.
The Chronic Pain Project began in earnest in May 2019 and has been doing its best to improve care ever since. The project, which is funded by Shared Care and supported by Interior Health and Divisions of Family Practice, has four main objectives; to improve health provider education surrounding chronic pain, improve patient education, create a local support network and develop tools to improve access to resources for both patients and providers.
Doctor Todd Loewen is one of the project leads and spoke about why the Elk Valley needs to improve their services for chronic pain patients.
“We identified as physicians that we felt that we could know more about it and we had some of our own education to get better educated around how to manage chronic pain,” he explained. “We really saw a gap in team members that people with chronic pain could have access to.”
Once the project received funding in February of last year, they hired Anne-Charlotte Sawatzky as a project manager. After she came on board, Loewen said the project leads were able to work through a process of identifying the needs and opportunities in the community.
“It’s critical that we have people to help with this work because we, as physicians, aren’t really good at organizing the rest of the community or events because we’re too busy seeing patients or running the office.”
With Sawatzky on board, the work began in earnest. The project is led by Sawatzky, Loewen and Dr. Joel Stimson but there are many more members as part of the project’s working group. This multifaceted approach to care includes a psychiatrist, a nurse, a social worker, a counsellor, two physiotherapists, a chiropractor, and several different representatives of Interior Health. According to Sawatzky, “these people have complementary skills and are the core of the professional supportive network we aim to create with the project.”
By coordinating this group of health care professionals, the project hopes to improve communication between health providers and improve efficiency within the existing care system. One of the ways that the Chronic Pain Project aims to achieve these goals is with a conference in February.
“We are hosting a conference with pain specialists at the end of February to improve provider education,” said Sawatzky. “The idea is to really help physicians know more about chronic pain and to help them also develop treatment plans and work better and in a different way with patients.”
Loewen agreed, adding that up until now, health providers have been quite isolated “from people that would help and so now we’re trying to build this network of people and professionals that are able to help these people.”
The conference will take place on February 26 and 27 at the Park Place Lodge in Fernie and has a total of three sessions. Two of these sessions will be targeted specifically towards health care professionals but the other will be open to the public.
The public session will take place from 3-5 p.m. on February 27 and will provide people living with all levels of chronic pain a chance to both learn about pain management and connect with others. The free public seminar is called Overcome Pain, Live Well Again and will feature a talk by Neil Pearson, a physiotherapist and pain specialist.
A couple of months ago, the project ran two Pain BC programs for patients in the valley. According to Sawatzky, the purpose of the programs was to improve knowledge about chronic pain and to learn “how to feel better and how to manage everyday pain better.”
She went on to add that one of the most important things that came out of those two programs was that it helped to get many chronic pain sufferers together to share their experiences and their difficulties. From those conversations, the Chronic Pain Project decided to launch a webpage where all of the different resources available to people could be posted.
“We’re hoping that thanks to the conference, people will also connect and help each other and exchange experience,” said Sawatzky.
Although funding for the Chronic Pain Project runs out in April, the project leads are hopeful and confident that what they’ve learned over the course of the project can be spun into a more sustainable solution in the future.
“A big thing that we’ll hopefully have long term funding for is a coordinating chronic pain nurse that can help coordinate physicians to work together and help coordinate those physicians with specialists that we can connect with using video technology and video conferencing so people don’t have to travel, and we can be more efficient in getting some expert advice,” said Loewen.