Tag Archives: personalized pain goals for cancer patients

Patient-Centered Cancer Care: Personal Pain Goals

By Susan van der Sommen, MHA, CMPE, FACHE

Stethescope with idea light

Pain relating to a cancer diagnosis is one of the most feared symptoms by patients. Pain is subjective and can be attributed to multiple factors: spiritual beliefs, physical pain, and psychological, or social issues. Additionally, pain is a common occurrence that can dramatically affect a patient’s quality of life during and after cancer treatment.

A 1993 study performed by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group  (ECOG) notes that 86% of practitioners felt their patients were under-medicated for adequate pain control and only 51% felt their practice controls patients’ pain effectively. Poor pain assessment, a practitioner’s reluctance to prescribe, and a patient’s unwillingness unwillingness to take the medication were reported as barriers.

More recently, in 2014 the Journal of Clinical Oncology published a landmark study by David Hui and Eduardo Bruera that discusses an evidence-based approach to personalized pain assessment and management that engages patients in identifying a personal “pain goal” they find acceptable.

As cancer programs and clinicians strive to improve upon the delivery of patient-centered oncology care, the need for continuing practitioner and patient education related to management of cancer-related pain is clear.

Education was one of the many factors considered by the team at Park Nicollet Oncology Research and Health Partners Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when they instituted their quality improvement (QI) initiative in 2014 focused on pain control in their cancer patient population. Patient satisfaction and out-of-pocket costs for patients were other factors, as they realized that they weren’t meeting their patients’ goals with regard to their level of pain control and that the high cost of some pain medications was resulting in high out-of-pocket costs for patients. The ultimate goal of the Park Nicollet team was to improve their patients’ quality of life through improved pain control and minimizing side effects while curbing out-of-pocket costs.

One of the most innovative and patient-centered approaches Park Nicollet took in its QI initiative was documenting a patient’s personal pain goals. A study published in 2012 notes that the assessment is entirely feasible in a busy outpatient setting and that patients are fully capable of establishing their desired pain relief on a scale of 1-10. The team at Park Nicollet experienced the same results. They increased documentation of their patients’ personalized pain goals from 16% to 71% in one year. Today, approximately 85% of patients report that they have achieved their pain goal. Read the full story of their experience here.

Allowing patients to determine their comfort level – with the appropriate education, of course – is one more way cancer centers can put their patients at the center of their care and encourage genuine shared decision-making.


Contributing blogger Susan van der Sommen, MHA, CMPE, FACHE, is Executive Director, DSRIP, Bassett Healthcare Network, and Chair of the ACCC Editorial Committee.