Joint Commission Issues New Pain Standards
Written by Editor   
Wednesday, December 10, 2014 02:09 PM

A Nov. 12, 2014 announcement from the principal accrediting agency for health care organizations could significantly impact access to integrative pain care throughout the United States.  The agency is the Joint Commission. The revised accreditation standard will apply to all the institutions under the agency's guidance and review: hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, home health and senior homes.

The focus of the change is great news for integrative health and medicine. The Joint Commission significantly elevated the potential value of "non-pharmacologic" approaches. Among those options directly called out are, in the terms used by the Joint Commission, acupuncture therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic therapy, osteopathic manipulative treatment, physical therapy, and relaxation therapy.

The beauty in the language of the revised standard is the side-by-side placement of "non-pharmacologic" and "pharmacologic" approaches. In fact, the non-pharma options are listed first. While this order was likely for alphabetical reasons, it follows a proper therapeutic order in which less-invasive approaches are considered first.

Accreditation insiders will note that the revised pain standard does not have the full police force the Joint Commission can put behind an action. Hospitals and clinics will not be "scored" on their compliance. Thus the move is seen more as a carrot that empowers integrative interests rather than a stick to force integrative pain treatment among the reluctant.

Notably however, in their statement on the revision, the Joint Commission specifically asked that "when considering the use of medications to treat pain, organizations should consider both the benefits to the patient, as well as the risks of dependency, addiction, and abuse of opioids." The admonition helps tee up exploration of other options.