Whether or not opioid pain medication might actually worsen pain is a legitimate clinical discussion and an important claims management topic. While the phenomenon is researched and written about in medical journals, talked about at various conferences, and acknowledged among physicians, I had not yet seen a committed attempt by a state regulator to educate injured workers about what might be happening to them.
And then New York State Workers' Compensation Board published this gem. The brochure was developed in cooperation with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (smart move by the WCB) and posted on the "Workers" section of the www.wcb.ny.gov website under the link "Pain Medication Dependence Fact Sheet."
The brochure is appropriately titled: "Is My Pain Medication Making Me Worse?"
The brochure starts with the story of Jim, a 55-year-old construction worker with a low back injury who is prescribed pain medication... and experiences a steady decline in functionality and engagement. It also includes a list of common medications, a phone number to call for help, a list of common side effects, a phone number to call for help, a list of FAQs, and last, but not least... you guessed it, a phone number to call for help. The number appears multiple times in multiple locations on a relatively simply brochure. And that's the point.
Educational pieces like this are harder to create than you might think. I recall when PRIUM created our own injured worker education piece (which you can download and use for free here). I was so proud of the first few drafts. I thought we had nailed it. Then our Medical Director, Dr. Pamela Thomas, got a hold of it. She tore our draft to shreds.
Dr. Thomas is an expert in health literacy. She helped us understand that patient education messages have to be aimed at the lowest common denominator. Too many big words, too many messages, too much clinical language, too few attempts to engage at the patient's level... all lead to poorly executed patient education materials. Which is not to say that all injured workers require reading materials at a remedial level. But the reality is that some do and good patient education ensures that the maximum number of patients can comprehend the information being conveyed. These things are hard to put together.
I give the New York piece one and half "thumbs up" (a couple of infographics for visually-geared learners would have taken taken it all the way to two thumbs up). The fact that they published this at all is fantastic and the bold title (Is My Pain Medication Making Me Worse?) is engaging, educational, provocative, and appropriate - all at the same time.
Well done, New York State Workers' Compensation Board.
Now... where is every other jurisdiction on injured worker pain management education?
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