October 4, 2022

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Chronic Pain Further Defined in New ICD-11 Standards

Chronic pain has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Thanks to never-ending news on medical cannabis legalization, more people than ever before are at least familiar with chronic pain as a concept. The World Health Organization (WHO) has certainly taken notice, going the extra mile to further define chronic pain in its new ICD-11 standards.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is now in its 11th iteration. It was made effective at the first of the year. Its most important change in relation to chronic pain is its inclusion of a number of diagnostic codes that allow pain to be specified in greater detail.

The Definition Does Not Change

The pain specialists at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, TX say that ICD-11 does not change the definition of chronic pain. Chronic pain continues to be defined as pain that continues or recurs for at least three months. Prior to ICD-11 the global coding standard did not differentiate between types of chronic pain. This is no longer the case.

Under the new standard, chronic pain is first coded using a diagnostic code that indicates chronic pain in general. From there, additional codes define the type of pain the patient is experiencing. For example, chronic pain could be a condition unto itself. It could also be coded as a symptom of another condition.

How It Helps

From a patient’s perspective, introducing more diagnostic codes doesn’t do much for relieving chronic pain. That much is true. But the new standard could lead to better treatments. How so? By giving doctors and advanced practice nurses more detail.

Prior to the new standard, a clinician treating a chronic pain patient for the first time would have to ask a lot of questions to figure out exactly where the patient’s pain plays into the rest of their medical condition. But with the use of new and more detailed diagnostic codes, many of the clinician’s questions are answered before a conversation with the patient ever takes place.

Lone Star pain specialists say this is indispensable in helping clinicians get a thorough understanding of patient needs and conditions. Conversations with patients do not always glean the right kind of information. However, more accurate and specific diagnostic coding can give doctors the unbiased information they need to understand what is going on.

Chronic Pain and Disability

Another important distinction in the new IDC-11 standard is the recognition that chronic pain can ultimately lead to patient disability and excessive stress. Diagnostic coding to that effect gives clinicians a bit more direction when dealing with chronic pain patients suffering effects above and beyond the pain itself.

Given that the new standard differentiates between different types of pain, understanding the disability and stress factors can be especially helpful to patients within a defined set of circumstances. Cancer patients are good example. Their chronic pain may be the result of both their disease and the treatments they are receiving. That pain could be causing depression, undue stress, and other complications.

Greater Recognition of Chronic Pain

At the end of the day, the new ICD-11 standard amounts to a greater recognition of chronic pain as a condition that can be both debilitating and extremely stressful. It gives doctors and advanced practice nurses more detailed information that can help them find better ways to manage patient pain.

If the new standard does improve chronic pain treatment, kudos to the WHO for their efforts. If not, it is back to the drawing board to figure out what else needs to be done. That is the way an evolving healthcare system works.