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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Minorities Receive Less Treatment For Pain

No matter who you are or where you came from every one experiences pain in one form or another. It is easy to think that the care you receive from a doctor is the same despite one's creed, color, or economic background; however, that is not always the case as some people are discriminated against inside the doctor's office. A new study done by Dr. Carmen Green, a pain specialist and professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan, has shown that that is not always the case. According to Dr. Green's study, Blacks and Hispanics receive inadequate care form doctors regarding their pain and those minorities whose pain is not treated are more likely to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “There is an unequal burden of pain,” Green said.

The study involved 200 chronic pain patients circulating through the University of Michigan health system. Researchers involved in the study were not able to determine the cause of the pain treatment imbalance and apparent discrimination, it could be due to: bias, discrepancies in culture, physiological variances, or a mixture of many different elements - one thing is clear though - pain treatment is far from colorblind. It may be hard to believe that in the 21st Century that one's color would determine the caliber of treatment received, but, the findings of the new study showed that blacks were prescribed fewer pain medications than whites and women get prescribed less strong pain medication than men.

The research published in the Journal of Pain showed:

  • Minority pain patients would be prescribed 1.8 pain medications compared to 2.6 drugs for non-minority sufferers.
  • Only 54 percent of pharmacies in minority neighborhoods had the most common painkillers in stock, while 87 percent of pharmacies in white neighborhoods did have them.

On top of the color barriers that exist within the pain treatment field, most doctors are not qualified to treat those who suffer from chronic pain. “From a research standpoint we are probably 40 to 50 years behind in pain research” when put up against other fields of medicine, Green said. “We need to address pain in a very different way." Nomita Sonty, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and psychiatry at Columbia University and the leader of the American Pain Society’s working group on disparities, said that modern health care moves too quickly for proper diagnosis to take place; “with the emphasis being on getting patients in and out of clinics quickly, practitioners do not have the time to spend with those who may need just a little longer to be understood due to language, cultural and other barriers."

“There has been some momentum in the direction of decreasing disparities in health care, but we still have a long ways to go,” Sonty said. “We need to establish a national agenda for addressing pain disparities.”


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