Show up at my office on a typical Friday afternoon and the waiting room generally will be well populated. People in groups of threes, twos, and solitary ones are scattered about, flipping through magazines, glancing at wristwatches, a few even catnapping, waiting to hear their names called.
However, on this Friday everyone was assembled in one end of the room, all facing the same direction, all listening to the same thing, all sharing in the same experience.
I still don’t have an official name for the happening, but I’ve nicknamed it a “SIN” session, i.e. Strength In Numbers. However, there’s nothing sinful about it.
Strength in Numbers is geared toward patients, is part classroom, part group therapy, and entirely beneficial to all participants – including me.
I had no trouble selecting the didactic elements. My practice is located on the border between Kentucky and Indiana – two states that have recently enacted laws and regulations for treating pain with controlled substances.
Both states’ regulations are instructive regarding educational requirements.
Kentucky’s regulations mandate:
A physician prescribing or dispensing a controlled substance shall take appropriate steps to educate a patient receiving a controlled substance.
There’s even a list of educational points to consider on the Kentucky Medical Board’s website.
Not to be outdone, Indiana’s regulations state:
The physician shall discuss with the patient the potential risks and benefits of opioid treatment for chronic pain, as well as expectations related to prescription requests and proper medication use.
Hoosier State regulations go on to list specific educational points that prescribers must cover with patients that include obtaining a patient’s informed consent.
Obviously, to obtain informed consent a patient must be informed.
Indeed, most states’ regulations require that physicians educate their patients. The Federation of State Medical Boards agrees:
The physician’s duty includes not only appropriate prescribing of opioid analgesics, but also appropriate education of patients… inadequate attention to patient education (is a clear) departure from accepted best clinical practices.
But, aside from the learning part, there is another, less precise, less quantifiable, factor in the equation that produces strength at these Friday afternoon get-togethers.
A group dynamic is quite therapeutic. For some time, psychology researchers have been able to show that group therapy is a “powerful intervention.”
Groups foster a community spirit; a sense that “I’m not in this alone.”
The group offers a sounding board. Members can help each other come up with specific ideas for improving a difficult situation or life challenge and even offer some accountability along the way.
The key therapeutic principles involved in group therapy include:
*Hope: Being with people who are coping or recovering gives hope to others who may be running short on this.
*Universality: People see that they are not alone.
*Information: They help each other by learning and sharing a consistent message.
*Altruism: Self-esteem and confidence is boosted by sharing and helping others.
*A sense of family: The therapy group is much like a family in some ways. And because the group shares common goals, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Now, more and more, group sessions are utilized in the treatment of conditions other than purely psychological. The American Academy of Family Physicians has stated their belief that “group visits are a proven, effective method for enhancing a patient’s self-care of chronic conditions, increasing patient satisfaction, and improving outcomes.”
Next, some definitions were explained, risks and alternatives were discussed along with “SMART” goals and proper stewardship of the medications. Patient responsibilities were explained. The educational points required by the Bluegrass and Hoosier States were covered. Some Q & A was encouraged throughout. It was interactive.
This was not a purely didactic session. There was eye contact and emotional contact. After all, pain is defined as a sensory and emotional experience.
And in the end, the participants didn’t just feel like a number.
And they had more strength to do battle.
As did their doctor.
On this atypical Friday afternoon.
There truly is strength in numbers.