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  • Final HHS Report on Pain Management Adds to Drumbeat for Better Access to Nondrug Approaches

    The final report from a US Department Health and Human Services (HHS) inter-agency task force on pain management best practices is out, and its call for greater collaborative care and improved access to physical therapy comes through loud and clear. It's a report that in many ways echoes APTA's white paper on opioids and pain management published nearly 1 year ago.

    The "Report on Pain Management Best Practices" changed little from its draft version released in January [Editor's note: this PT in Motion News article covered the draft in depth]. Like its predecessor, the report identifies gaps and inconsistencies in pain management that can contribute to opioid misuse.

    While the task force acknowledges that opioids may be appropriate when carefully prescribed in some instances, it also argues that other approaches—including "restorative therapies" furnished by physical therapists and other health care professionals—should be on equal footing with pharmacological alternatives, particularly when it comes to reimbursement and patient access.

    "Restorative therapies play a significant role in acute and chronic pain management, and positive clinical outcomes are more likely if restorative therapy is part of a multidisciplinary treatment plan following a comprehensive assessment," the report states, while pointing out that "use of restorative therapies is often challenged by incomplete or inconsistent reimbursement policies."

    APTA submitted comments on the draft report, and offered members a chance to contribute to the report's development through a customizable template letter. Association staff members also met in person with Vanila M. Singh, MD, task force chair, and provided public commentary to the task force on 2 occasions.

    The HHS report is consistent with a 2018 APTA white paper, "Beyond Opioids: How Physical Therapy Can Transform Pain Management to Improve Health." In that resource, APTA recommends the adoption of public and public health plan benefit models that support early access to physical therapy and other nonpharmacological interventions for pain, and a reduction or elimination of out-of-pocket costs for those approaches.

    "This report from HHS adds to an overwhelming body of knowledge that spells out the need for patient-centered, collaborative care that makes nonpharmacological approaches to pain management more accessible to public," said Katy Neas, APTA executive vice president of public affairs. "But the question is, what will the public, federal agencies, and other stakeholders do with the information in this report and so many others like it? Will payers actually change their reimbursement guidelines to align with best practices, or should more regulatory changes be brought to bear? The path forward is clear, and some positive changes are happening, but as this report makes clear, it's time to pick up the pace."

    APTA continues to build on its successful #ChoosePT campaign to educate the public on safe, effective alternatives to opioids for pain management. The most recent addition: a downloadable pain profile chart that makes it easy for patients to assess the severity and impact of the pain they're experiencing.

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