An Interview with Kevin L. Zacharoff, MD
Wendy L. Williams, BSN, M.Ed.:
What was your overall impression of the PAINWeek 2012 conference?
Kevin L. Zacharoff, MD: Each year, momentum continues to grow for PAINWeek. The number of attendees this year was about 2000, which is a significant increase from 1500 participants last year. PAINWeek is making great strides toward becoming the “go-to” annual conference for healthcare providers working on the front lines with people with pain.
Every person I spoke with agreed that there was a high level of energy and excitement among the attendees. Participants were ready to learn, interact, and take advantage of all that the conference had to offer. It seemed that clinicians are letting their colleagues know that this is the conference to attend if you want to improve your skills in pain management. This word-of-mouth is driving interest, adding many first-time attendees to those returning to the conference.
WW: How would you distinguish this year’s conference from past years?
KZ: The organizers have designated a specific clinical condition on which to focus throughout the conference, and this year it was diabetes. Topics ranged from the pathophysiology of diabetes, to assessment of diabetic clinical conditions, to current best practices in diabetes treatment.
There were twenty-six tracks that participants could follow, providing options and choices for everyone. In particular, I was pleased to see a core set of courses devoted to pain care for veterans which highlighted a range of topics from post-deployment chronic pain to psychiatric co-morbidities that may increase opioid addiction risk. Also, pain specialists associated with the American Pain Society (APS) were there reviewing pain management best practices. Having APS at PAINWeek acknowledges the central role that primary care providers play in treating pain, and this type of educational outreach is a step in the right direction.
We have come to expect that all the presentations at PAINWeek will provide practical content that participants can immediately apply on their first Monday back at work. This is the draw of this conference – hearing about a screening tool or a new approach to managing pain that helps clinicians gain confidence and learn more about effective pain care. As Renee Dahring, MSN, RN, CNP, a family nurse practitioner from Minnesota and one of this year’s PainEDU.org’s Scholarship recipients said, “I just wanted to thank all of you once again for the incredible experience of attending PAINWeek. The information was truly invaluable for me and I have already begun to integrate what I learned into my practice.” All the scholarship recipients were thrilled to be at the meeting and impressed with the quality of the conference. It was wonderful to meet them, and PainEDU.org is happy to fund their participation.
The poster session had a nice mix of bench science and applied research to put directly into practice. The scientific posters provided a glimpse into the future, but clinical care remained the central theme. Year after year the exhibit floor keeps on growing, and I look forward to seeing how PAINWeek and the field of pain management will grow in the future.
WW: Who attended the conference?
KZ: Attendees ranged from those you would expect – physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and psychologists – to lawyers, social workers and other professionals interested in pain management. I particularly value that this meeting is interdisciplinary by design. The educational sessions are offered to everyone, and all attendees are considered part of a pain care unit. As we all know, interdisciplinary care is the ideal standard for pain management, and PAINWeek does an exceptional job of maintaining that focus through modeling it.
WW: Was there any particularly noteworthy part of the meeting?
KZ: A highlight for me was the keynote address by Dan Carr, MD, FABPM and Director of Tufts University’s Pain Research, Education, and Policy (PREP) Program. His presentation, titled A Public Health View of Pain Education: Have We Been Backwards, Upside Down, or Both?, stressed the benefits of moving toward a humanistic starting point for pain care, rather than employing a traditional mechanistic starting point. He presented the more commonly used mechanistic model as concentric circles with the nociceptive event (and its attendant list of possible treatment approaches) as the core or starting point and moving out from there to finally looking at the whole person. In contrast, a humanistic view begins with considering the suffering person as the core or starting point of assessment and moving out from there to finally determining possible treatment approaches. Dr. Carr proposed that a shift in this direction may result in more effective pain care; we may find empathy and basic human touch to be ideal analgesic agents. Humans experience pain as social beings – they integrate associated meaning and cultural influences. I was reminded of the studies showing how human touch alone can lower the physiologic indicators of distress in newborns undergoing circumcision or heel sticks. Dr. Carr illustrated the humanistic model clearly with a slide showing a mother simply kissing her baby’s forehead. He asked, “Is there any medicine better than that?”
WW: In conclusion, what do you anticipate for PAINWeek 2013 and beyond?
KZ: I see this conference continuing to grow and becoming an increasingly important resource for the frontline clinician. Pain management, and the education required to do it well, will continue to take a more central role in primary care for the foreseeable future.