Through my personal interactions with thousands of PTs across Canada, I find that by nature we are kind, caring and want nothing more than to help our patients in their recovery. But how do patients and PTs define recovery? Sadly, it is most often defined by the complete elimination of pain. This is certainly not unique to just PTs, as MDs seem to have the same view. In fact a paper states “patients find 50% pain relief to be disappointing” and that the aim of MDs should be 98% pain relief.

Some MDs who wish to maximize the satisfaction of their patients, will inevitably prescribe the optimum drug to help with pain. Similarly, many PTs who wish to maximize their patient-satisfaction, will resort to all forms of passive modalities to reduce pain.

Regrettably, the often unreasonable expectation that a doctor or a therapist must 100% eradicate pain may come with unintended consequences. Is it possible that in the long-run, the focus on patient-satisfaction may be harmful to some patients? Focusing on pain elimination and temporarily “feeling better” is perhaps beneficial in the short-term, but may come at a cost. The over-reliance on an external force may in fact hinder their recovery.

Here is a quote directly from this study titled The cost of patient satisfaction”.

“…higher patient satisfaction was associated with … greater inpatient use, higher overall health care and prescription drug expenditures, and increased mortality.”

It is suggested that greater opioids prescription may sometimes be driven by MDs desire to satisfy their patients.

What does all this have to do with PTs? Well, I’m hypothesizing that our intuitive desire to satisfy our patients through pain elimination or reduction may be “successful” in the short term, but perhaps in the long term we may be harming them by focusing on pain-relief versus on addressing factors such as inactivity, stress, fear, diet, sleep, worklessness etc.

In rare occasions when patients ask me, “Will you be using any ultrasound, lasers or machines? I reply with, “The truth is that heat, tingling machines and various massage techniques may make you temporary feel better, but I’m not here to make you feel better, I’m here to help you GET BETTER!” 

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