MEDICINE HAT, AB – Alberta Health Services (AHS) confirmed the pain clinic at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital is closed to new patients.
The wait list for new patients to see a physician for chronic pain is nearly two years long. Dr. Vincent DiNinno is the AHS Associate Zone Medical Director for Medicine Hat Regional Hospital. He said a large part of that is because they are unable to discharge follow up patients in order to take on new ones.
To meet the need for chronic pain management services, DiNinno said they cannot keep using the same model where specialists and physicians are the sole providers for chronic pain treatment.
“Our plan is to have a multidisciplinary pronged approach to the intake and triaging of patients so that they are directed to the proper treatment much quicker than we are doing currently,” said DiNinno.
That includes referring patients to alternative forms of therapy such as physiotherapy, chiropractic treatments, and self-management. DiNinno said alternative therapy won’t work for all patients – there are many who need pharmaceutical treatments. But training other healthcare professionals in chronic pain management may free up space for those who need to see a specialist.
AHS could not provide an exact date as to when the wait list will re-open to take on new patients. The hospital ran into a similar problem three years ago, where it took between 6-8 months before the pain clinic was opened to new patients again.
DiNinno added that the clinic will not be entirely closed – family physcians will still be able to call the pain clinic physicians and receive consultations and advice over the phone for their patients.
Dr. Gaylord Wardell is a local anaesthesiologist and pain specialist who runs the Centre for Chronic Pain Disease. Wardell says his clinic’s wait list is also between 18-24 months, but he will continue to add patients to that list.
Wardell believes the saturated wait times are linked to a lack of understanding when it comes to chronic pain.
“If everybody knew chronic pain as well as they know diabetes, we wouldn’t need all these chronic pain specialists because the family physicians and the primary care networks would be able to look after most of [the patients],” said Wardell.
Wardell is concerned that closing the pain clinic to new patients will lead to those with treatable pain being blocked out from accessing consultations, and that could lead to more serious, chronic conditions if their pain isn’t treated early enough.
But DiNinno said they will work to ensure those patients will not “fall through the cracks” because the hospital's pain clinic physicians will continue to offer consultations to patients’ family physicians.
In the meantime, patients needing chronic pain treatment who are not on a wait list are advised to see their family physician.
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