Pine Rivers Private Hospital is increasingly investing in an emerging medical specialty to tackle the debilitating effects of chronic pain.
QPain’s Dr Michelle O’Brien, who has consulted at the hospital for the past year, is one of only around 250 pain specialists across the country, and supports a multidisciplinary approach to help patients better manage their pain.
‘As a relatively small and newish specialty, a lot of patients and sometimes even general practitioners and other specialists have not heard of a pain specialist,’ she said.
‘It’s actually a misleading title because we are of course ‘anti-pain’. We’re about trying to help patients manage their pain more effectively, and a real need for this type of service in the north of Brisbane has been identified.’
Chronic pain is believed to affect up to 30 per cent of the population and it is associated with contributing to significant costs to the community and high levels of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Despite such prevalence, Dr O’Brien said chronic pain remained poorly understood as medical conditions.
‘As pain is a purely subjective experience, it is complex and difficult to define,’ she said.
‘Each of our patients will define their pain uniquely and that will be based on the context of their pain, life experiences, beliefs and expectations.
‘What is certain is the devastating impact chronic pain can have on one’s life, with mental health issues often tightly intertwined with the condition.
‘For example, advocacy group Pain Australia has found one in five Australian adults with severe or very severe pain also suffer depression or other mood disorders, while physical health problems have been implicated in more than 20 per cent of suicides.
‘Caring for such patients can be incredibly challenging but is also very rewarding.’
Dr O’Brien who started her career as an anaesthetist,and trained further as a pain specialist, said “Drugs alone are not a realistic approach. Likewise, psychological approaches or physical therapies or interventions alone are unlikely to deliver best results. A combination of management strategies is more likely to result in improvement. Allied health (psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy) involvement is often pivotal, and referral to other medical specialists such as psychiatrists may be needed.
‘When it comes to chronic pain, it can be a slow-ish process to assess improvements and our patients are often encouraged to track and record their progress to allow more accurate reflection of their clinical course.
‘Chronic pain is undoubtedly a condition that robs people of lots of things but it is also rewarding when we can help patients improve their function and improve their lives.’
Dr O’Brien, who studied medicine at the University of Queensland, commenced training in pain management at the Professor Tess Cramond Multidisciplinary Pain Centre (Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital) and St Vincent’s Private Hospital.
In 2017 she joined QPain, one of the country’s leading specialist pain clinics that is actively involved in ongoing research and multi-centre clinical trials and specialises in the latest advancements in pain medicine.
Dr O’Brien consults for outpatient appointments on Tuesdays at Pine Rivers Private Hospital, to discuss an appointment please contact QPAIN on 07 3391 7111