Medical schools leaders commit to pain management teaching

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Written by Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE — In an effort to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic, state officials and deans of the four medical schools in Massachusetts have agreed to collaborate in the development of a set of principles to teach their students about pain management and safe prescribing of opioids.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel met Wednesday with the leaders of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Boston University School of Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School and Harvard Medical School to begin discussing potential curriculum improvements and cooperative ventures across the institutions.

“I view this as something that is multi-factorial, multi-disciplinary, and there is no single silver bullet,” Baker said after meeting with the medical school deans. “But I certainly plan to spend a lot of time on this issue, and I’m grateful that I believe we’re going to have some very important leaders in the healthcare world working with us on this.”

[Watch: Press Conference]

In June, a working group convened by Baker issued a set of 65 recommendations for dealing with the opioid abuse epidemic, including providing doctors additional training on prescribing the drugs.

“We, the four deans of the four medical schools in Massachusetts, are committed to working together over the next several months to create this set of core competencies that you called for, so that we may begin to have effective prevention at the front end in terms of prescription drug abuse,” UMass Medical School Dean Terence Flotte told Baker during a news conference after the meeting.

The Massachusetts Medical Society has also developed a series of continuing-education guidelines for practicing physicians, which society president Dennis Dimitri said are meant to help stem the flow of opioids into cities and towns.

“We know that most physicians have been prescribing in ways that have been reasonable, but we also know that there have been some issues where too many opioids have been allowed to be prescribed and get into our community,” he said.

Calling education a key to preventing drug abuse, Bharel said future doctors must be trained to balance their responsibility to manage patients’ pain with attention to public safety.

She said that one topic the group discussed was the importance of simulations to help medical students learn to treat pain safely. Pain, she said, is measured more subjectively than other vital signs like pulse or blood pressure.

“There needs to be some classroom, didactic learning, but the best way of caring for individuals and understanding the subjective pain is done by simulating, role-modeling and making sure that the faculty that’s teaching them is well-equipped,” Bharel said.

Boston University School of Medicine Dean Karen Antman said that the efforts should not focus solely on medical doctors or be limited to those at specific stages of their careers.

“I believe that this needs to be inter-professional,” Antman said. “We need to to include dentists, nurses, and we also have to have it at multiple levels — medical students, residents and attending physicians.”

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