A Simple Pain Management Innovation

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Dr. Mete Akin, medical director of pain management at Sibley Memorial Hospital, passed away on September 21, 2017. He was an important part of this project.

By Frankie Abralind

A doctor sits next to the bed and types in a prescription. “I’m going to put you on medication for the pain you’ll have after we put that new knee in,” she says. “You should be fine with some Percocet every four hours.” She looks over at the patient with a smile, knowing she’s giving solid, proven care advice.  

“Actually, could I try TENS therapy first?” asks the patient, a seventy-three-year-old man named Dougie. He’s holding a little blue booklet, and he’s curious. “Or hot-cold therapy and meditation?”

Our hospital has many underutilized options for pain management. “Painkillers” are the ones that come to mind quickest. Patients ask for them, nurses offer them, doctors prescribe them. Unfortunately, many Americans’ lives have been completely upended by opioid addictions that started with honest, well-intended prescriptions to these powerful narcotics.

Dhiraj (DJ) Jagasia, an Anesthesiologist who’s been working at Sibley for years, had an idea about how to break this cycle.

Conscribing one of the Hub’s fabulous interns to the project, DJ and I applied Sibley’s Listen, Imagine, Do human-centered design process to the problem. A week after we met to create a project plan, we’d interviewed 18 nurses, nurse managers and patients about the options they knew and the options they offered. We focused our work with the question “How might we improve awareness of pain management options at Sibley?” and generated 52 ideas in a half hour of brainstorming. Eventually we settled on a couple and spent 20 minutes building prototypes to show each other. The idea that floated to the top: a “passport” with a page for each option. Patients could earn some sort of stamp or token for each kind of pain management they tried.

After several iterations and a few rounds of testing, DJ sought the help of Dr. Mete Akin, a passionate new pain medicine doctor who saw the potential for the project and was willing to help it succeed. He pushed us to the next level, finalizing the content so we could professionally print a batch of 100 to pilot on a floor and get patient feedback. It's now in testing on one unit.

Mete was a friendly, supportive voice and a wise source of guidance for this innovative new project. We’re grateful for his contribution and look forward to getting the Pain Management Passports adopted throughout Sibley.