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Law: Doctors Now Must Pay Close Attention to Patient's Pain

Whether it is a mild ache or persistent pain, millions of people suffer from pain every year. Now new efforts are being made in the medical profession to assure pain relief is a priority in treating patients. Health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains.

Pain has been one of the most neglected health issues. But this year, an aggressive new law is requiring doctors to consider pain as they would any other vital sign that tells us how a patient is doing.

Doctors at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey take pain seriously. For patients like Craig Sarnovsky, that means finding out as much as possible about his pain to more accurately target relief for his spinal disorder.

"It's important to assess where their pain levels are and to dose your medications early and appropriately," says Dr. Jeffery Gudin, director of pain management at Englewood Hospital. "So at the first complaints of pain, patients should be given adequate pain medication and then redose again before pain reaches high levels."

Doctors here use a simple but effective scale to determine the level of pain. "On a scale of 1 to 10 with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain, where's your pain right now?" Gudin asks Craig.

"Now I'd say it's about a 8," says Craig.

"There are different kinds of pain and different kinds of pain respond to different types of pain therapies," says Gudin.

Ida Servilio always rated her pain from shingles, a spinal problem and arthritis as a 10. Now, instead of large doses of pain pills, doctors give her relief with simple spinal injections.

"Today, where would you say your pain level is?" Gudin asks. Ida says, "Two." "That's fantastic," replies Gudin.

"Before, I couldn't even carry a bottle of ginger ale. That's how bad the pain was," says Ida. "And now I can do almost all the household duties that I couldn't do before, and I'm involved in a lot of things now that I couldn't do before."

For children or those unable to communicate verbally, doctors use a different scale. "It basically is a pain faces scale, and the faces go from a sad, crying face to a happy face, and especially for children, they're able to point toward the face which best describes their pain," explains Gudin.

Doctors at Englewood Hospital are at the forefront of enacting new regulations that require evaluation of pain as part of the assessment of every patient who comes to the hospital.

Are there any ways of measuring pain aside from asking questions of the patient?

Not yet. But that simple way of describing pain with facial expressions actually may be the secret to measuring pain exactly. Because grimacing is one of the body's natural reactions to pain. Doctors at Englewood Hospital are experimenting with attaching electrodes to the muscles around the eyes that react to pain in order to see if they can develop a tool to measure that reaction.

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