Happy New Year, Happy New Decade

Blog 1
December 17, 2009
Ain’t No Cure for the Winter Time Blues
January 9, 2010

My New Year’s Day morning paper presented an article from the Associated Press stating that the “U.S. falls short on some health goals for 2010.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services runs an organization known as Healthy People which provides health objectives for our country to promote better health. Every ten years, they reassess their goals, and report on progress made in the previous decade. Now that we have just completed the first decade of the new millennium, they will be measuring up how we did as a nation.

Preliminary results suggest we may have only hit about 20 percent of the goals for this past decade. A few of the misses paint a grim picture of the direction we may be heading. In 2000, about 25 percent of Americans qualified as obese, and the goal for 2010 was to lower that to 15 percent. Where did we end the decade? With 34 percent of Americans now considered obese. Back in 2000, 28 percent of the country suffered from high blood pressure. The goal was to reduce that number to 16 percent, but it has actually risen to 29 percent.

Death rates from strokes, cancer, and heart disease are all dropping. That sounds encouraging at first glance, but it says to me that maybe we are getting better at treating diseases that are becoming more common as opposed to preventing them in the first place. In other words, you prevent people from drowning by either hiring more lifeguards to save folks who get into harm’s way in the water, or by teaching more of them how to swim. Is our health becoming less about swimming and more about finding the best lifeguards to save us when we need them?

How did we do as far addressing chronic pain? My guess is the prevalence and impact chronic pain has on our society is now greater than ever. I looked at the Healthy People objectives at healthypeople.gov, and while they don’t address chronic pain as an entity, they do have a section devoted to “arthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic back conditions.” Some of the objectives include things like reducing activity limitations, lowering the proportion that can’t perform self-care activities, and reducing the impact these conditions have on employment for the elderly. Objectives and goals such as these can really be applied to most painful chronic conditions.

What do you think our objective should be for the new decade? As a pain medicine physician, how should I focus my time and where should I direct my attentions? Should doctors like me become more concerned with preventing chronic pain when possible as opposed to just treating it? Is it possible that I can succeed as a swimming coach as opposed to merely a lifeguard? How can I reach people earlier on-before the suffering mounts? These are questions I ponder, but I still don’t have clear answers. Pain doctors need your help and advice on figuring out what the goals should be to best serve you in 2010 and beyond. Let’s think big.