Pain Management – Who Can Help?


One of the biggest concerns that patients have about surgery is dealing with pain. Pain control is an incredibly important part of what your medical team does, and the surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses who care for surgical patients have a number of tools that they can use to help with pain control. In this post, I’ll describe the team involved in pain management, and in my next post, I’ll discuss some of those tools.

Who is Responsible for Your Pain Control?

Your anesthesiologist: The anesthesiology team is usually responsible for pain control during and immediately after your operation. They are the doctors and nurses who will put you to sleep, if you are having a general anesthetic, or who will provide the local or regional anesthetics that are more common for some operations. Anesthesiologists are also sometimes asked to help with longer-term pain management during a patient’s recovery, as part of an Acute Pain Service (APS). APS, which is generally a team of anesthesiologists, helps figure out the best pain management approach for patients with high pain levels or with catheters that deliver pain medication for hours or days, such as epidurals.

Your surgical team: Unless you’re under the care of an Acute Pain Service, your primary surgical team is usually responsible for the pain medication you get after leaving the recovery room. They will prescribe the pain medication that you get in the hospital and pain medication that you take home with you when you are discharged. It’s important to note that your surgical team can only prescribe pain medication while you’re having pain directly related to your operation. For long-term pain issues, you will need a referral to a chronic pain specialist (usually an anesthesiologist).

Your nurse: While your surgical team will prescribe the pain medication you get in the hospital, your nurse will be the person who actually delivers it. Nurses can only provide pain medicines at the dose and frequency prescribed, and generally pain medications are only delivered “PRN” — which means “as needed.” Be sure to speak with your nurse about what pain medications you have available and on what schedule, so you can know when to ask for them.

You: Your doctors and nurses will try hard to keep your pain under control. They will continue to ask you your pain score, which is a measure of how you rate your pain on a scale of 1 (no pain) to 10 (the worst pain you can imagine). Your pain score is an important part of every assessment. But no one can feel your pain except for you.  If you feel you need more or different pain remedies, be sure to let your nurse or doctor know.

In my next post, I will explain the different ways that pain medication is provided.

This story originally appeared in the  Health Dialog Care Compass Blog.

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