UW Medicine Takes a New View
of Chronic Pain
In the U.S., pain is one of the most common reasons for visiting the doctor. When it manifests as a by-product of a disease, illness or injury, it is fairly simple to treat. But when the disease is gone and pain lingers, or when a patient has pain without an identifiable cause, then pain itself becomes a disease. This type of chronic pain is a medical mystery for many physicians.
To solve the mystery of chronic pain and to make a positive difference in patients’ lives, Dr. John Bonica launched the world’s first pain clinic at UW Medicine in 1961, organized around his novel, multi-disciplinary approach to treatment. However, in the 1990s, managed care made Bonica’s collaborative, multi-provider model prohibitively expensive, and the UW Pain Center became all but dormant.
Then, in 2008, Debra Schwinn, M.D., UW professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine, invited internationally renowned pain specialist Alex Cahana, M.D., DAAPM, FIPP, to lead the newly formed Division of Pain Medicine. Cahana accepted on the condition that he be allowed to revive Bonica’s model of treatment around a new paradigm for pain: one that treats it as a disease, not simply as a symptom.
At UW Medicine, Cahana, the Hughes M. and Katherine G. Blake Endowed Professor in Health Psychology, oversees nine pain programs in five hospitals, including the flagship Center for Pain Relief based at UW Medical Center-Roosevelt. In the past two years, Cahana and his colleagues have been moving forward with a comprehensive agenda that addresses chronic pain from the perspectives of patient care, specialist training, research and legislation — all within the framework of the division’s mission of “predicting, diagnosing and preventing pain from becoming a disabling disease.” As a result of their efforts, the Center for Pain Relief received the 2010 American Pain Society Center of Excellence Award.