Illustration by Matthew Woodson
A constant backache. A relentless crick in the neck. For many people, a diagnosis of chronic pain comes with a dosage of powerful medication and a suggestion to exercise—not a long-term solution. SSM Health Care is trying to change that with a network of pain-care centers at four hospitals that are working together to find permanent remedies for chronic pain.
“We’re allowing many patients to come off their high-powered medications, which can produce serious side effects, and we really see the patient’s quality of life change for the better,” says Dr. Ramis Gheith, a specialist in pain management and anesthesia at
SSM St. Joseph Hospital West.
The SSM Pain Care network is a collaborative effort between pain-care centers and several subspecialties—including nursing, neurosurgery, and orthopedic surgery—at SSM St. Joseph Health Center, SSM St. Joseph Hospital West, SSM St. Clare
Health Center, and SSM DePaul Health Center.
“Pain management in general is a very complex phenomenon, and it’s difficult to place an individual into one pain clinic,” says Gheith. “The pain network streamlines the patients’ care and quality of care, and gives everyone access to the same records so we
One of the most common causes of chronic pain is neuropathy, damage to nerves or nerve groups, adds Gheith. Some of the most effective treatments, he explains, target those nerves with advanced techniques, like injections into the nerve block, that focus on specific nervous-system pathways.
All of SSM Pain Care’s physicians are board-certified in pain management and must follow a joint commission’s standards for quality, explains SSM Pain Care team leader Jane Klutenkamper. In an outpatient setting, she says, physicians would not have to abide by those guidelines—so the pain-care network’s standards and certifications help ensure a more unified approach to care.
“So many people have chronic pain, and we’re trying to give them a new lease on life,” says Klutenkamper. “Before, when physicians saw these patients, they were just medicated, but we’re giving them a team approach to much more specific care.”
Though pain care affects millions, the field is still in its infancy. “Pain management is growing in leaps and bounds with all the research and data that’s come out in the past 10 years,” says Gheith. “That’s why some people call 2001 to 2010 the decade of pain control and research. We’re putting a lot of money into this, and we’ve received a lot of data recently that’s really improving the quality of life for patients.”