The annual Chronic Pain Australia survey found steep worsening of how people in pain feel pharmacists help them manage their pain in comparison to last year’s survey.
When asked to rate how people felt their pharmacist was managing their pain the average score was 4/10.
In 2019 when this same question was asked, the average score for pharmacists was 8/10, which highlights a significant 50% decrease in 2020.
“What we are seeing in this year’s National Pain Survey regarding the relationship deterioration between people living with chronic pain and their GP and pharmacist is very concerning and easily demonstrates that health care professionals need to improve their approach towards how pain is managed in Australia and importantly, how people in pain are treated,” says President of Chronic Pain Australia, Jarrod McMaugh, who is also a pharmacist.
People in pain reported through the survey that they often felt unheard, not believed and generally stigmatised when they visited their pharmacist.
Being suspected of being a drug seeker was very commonly reported and may have contributed to the poorer relationships between people in pain and pharmacists.
COVID-19 has also impacted how people in pain manage their conditions and how they interact with health care professionals.
“We also can’t underestimate the impact COVID-19 has had on people living with pain and health care professionals. We do note that our survey was open from 1-31 May which was an incredibly pivotal four-week period in Australia’s battle against COVID-19.
“It is no surprise to us that the extra pressure and challenges the pandemic has brought with it would also put pressure on the relationships people in pain have with their pharmacist and GP, but it certainly isn’t the only contributing factor leading to the decline in the relationship between people in pain and health care professionals,” says Mr McMaugh.
The survey saw more than 1200 people from across the country participate and more than half of those surveyed (52%) reported that the way they manage their pain has changed during COVID-19 restrictions and many (69%) have utilised telehealth options during this time.
60% of people say that they feel they have benefited from using telehealth and 59% want to continue using telehealth for their treatment when COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted.
“What we are very clearly hearing from people in pain is that they have been challenged managing their pain during COVID-19 and accessing the medical professionals they used to see face-to-face, but the majority are happy with telehealth options.
“Many would like to see it continue into the future just as a standard way we manage health in Australia moving forward,” says Mr McMaugh.
Mr McMaugh also noted that the condition of many people in pain worsened during COVID-19 because they were not able to access the management options that are needed to correctly manage pain levels, like hydrotherapy, gyms, exercise bikes and other physical therapies.
Other respondents reported benefiting from working from home arrangements and self-isolation due to the respite it has given their bodies as the pace of everyday life slows down.
The relationship between people living with chronic pain and their GP also declined to 5/10 down from 8/10 in the 2018 and 2019 surveys.
Survey respondents also reported not being believed and being stigmatised by their GP as major issues impeding better working relationships between the two.
The survey also found that stigma remains one of the biggest issues facing someone living with chronic pain with people reporting facing daily discrimination in many aspects of their life due to pain.
In addition many people living with pain support the use of medicinal cannabis as a treatment method to chronic pain but only 33% have spoken to their GP about accessing it with many reporting fearing discussing the issue with their GP or being previously dismissed by their GP when they raised it.
The survey was released to mark the start of National Pain Week (27 July – 2 August).