Open Letter To the Chronic Back Pain Healthcare Industry: Let's Nix the Selling Shenanigans

Sean M. Wheeler MBy Sean M. Wheeler, M.D.

“[A]s an industry, we must work together to prove ourselves worthy of the esteem this [profession]...holds. We demand...high prices for our product, and our clients...place both their trust and money with us without question. We must continually raise the bar above “selling” and provide our clients with the best, unbiased and unexaggerated points of view possible."

These are fighting words from guitar maker Gerald Sheppard. And beliefs I share in my chronic back pain management practice.   

According to Sheppard, selling shenanigans in guitar sales include “developing an artificial reputation of mystique about the wood” to move inventory off the shelf.

In the chronic back pain industry, selling also exists: of the Same Old Thing. For the past 40 plus years, the medical establishment treats back pain based on misunderstood and incomplete knowledge. Some are needle jockeys who push higher revenue injections, rather than treatment addressing the real cause of the patient's chronic back pain. Patients do not get better, or they get better only to have their pain quickly return.

And so it continues.

Needed systemic change has yet to occur within not only the medical profession, but also among the health insurance industry, the latter in relation to treatment insurance carriers approve for payment. 

Whether in lutherie or medicine, as professionals we must set our egos aside to put our patient first. We expect more from ourselves, and from each other, given the trust our patients award us.

In my first years of practicing medicine, a mentor taught me to pause while making a diagnosis or patient treatment decision, and ask: “Is this about me, or is this about the patient?

Armed with this awareness and more questions – through medical fellowships in sports medicine and pain management, I soon arrived at an inevitable crossroads.  Would I remain complicit in “selling” our dinosaur of a treatment process?  Or question it?

I questioned it, and answers came.  Answers with far-reaching potential to emancipate humankind from chronic back pain, as I share in UPRISE, a self-empowerment manual for chronic back pain patients, and a new understanding tutorial for healthcare professionals, from which both learn how to tune, keep in tune, and play their low back, their Body Guitar, liberated from chronic pain.

Each day a patient’s experience and outcome improves is an enormous win.  But for things to truly change, as professionals we must raise the bar:

  • Continue to put the patient first. 
  • Free ourselves from the status quo flawed approach.
  • Ask questions.
  • Share the responsibility. 
  • Push the conversation beyond assumptive thinking and current comfort levels.
  • Communicate and share innovative understanding such as Tune Me
  • Move forward with research.

I trust those of you in pain management will be open to and share the concepts of Body Guitar and Tune Me with your patients – putting them first - as reflected beautifully in the philosophy expressed by our thoughtful luthier in Tennessee: 

"...to help the guitarist present a piece of music to the best of his or her ability, and for it to sound the way it was intended to sound.”

As in lutherie so in medicine, as responsible medical professionals we must set our egos aside to put our patients first.

It's a decision we can each easily make.

Jan 25 2016
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