On Pain, Doctor, Heal Thyself

Disparities Health Care Ideas and Issues

            Tegucigalpa    The big Pharma and medical rationale for the opioid crisis has been that they were trying to create real options to deal with pain management that had been neglected virtually forever.  Maybe, but the money was too good and the controls nonexistent, and now there are a million dead from overdoses over the last 30 years.  In the wake of that disaster, what happened to dealing with pain?  Turns out according to a great Washington Post report, not much if you were a woman for example, where too often the medical response has been “grin and bear it,” and about the same, if you were Black as well.

There are a lot of anecdotal stories of course, many of them all of us have heard in our own homes and workplaces, especially from our partners, sisters, and friends when they let down their hair and share their experiences in dealing with reproductive health or just about anything on the south side from birth to IUDs to regular exams and pap smears.  The Post is clear that these are not just stories around the coffeepot, but, tragically, reflect real gender disparity in treatment.  Some examples include:

  • …the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that women who visited emergency departments with chest pain waited 29 percent longer than men to be evaluated for possible heart attacks.
  • An analysis of 981 emergency room visits showed that women with acute abdominal pain were up to 25 percent less likely than their male counterparts to be treated with powerful opioid painkillers.
  • Another study showed that middle-aged women with chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness compared with men who had the same symptoms.

Is the problem doctors?  Heck yes, it seems.  Researchers have found that women are more susceptible to pain, though the folk wisdom often says the opposite, so doctors, especially male doctors, often disregard women’s complaints as overreacting.  One researcher argues simply that doctors need to “treat the pain that the patient has, not the pain that you think the patient should have.”   Good advice, too bad, it’s so obvious.

Of course, it’s not just gender.  Race is at issue here as well.  As the Post reports, “A 2016 study found half of white medical students and residents held at least one false belief about biological differences between Blacks and Whites, and were more likely to underestimate Black patients’ pain.”

Doctors, heal yourself.  Some getting too much, and many getting too little.  Get off your altars and down to our level and fix these problems, before more of us are hurt, hurting, and dead because of your errors.