Why Do Doctors Keep Pushing Invasive Procedures on Me?

By Mike Emelio, Guest Columnist 

I'm not a cynical person by nature, but I'm seeing a very clear pattern with interventional pain management doctors. Why is it that every doctor I've seen who is certified in interventional pain medicine (at least 8 of them already) demonize opioid medication and insist on pushing their non-FDA approved injections, radiofrequency ablations, pain pumps and spinal cord stimulators? 

This approach is even more absurd when you consider the fact that invasive procedures tend to have low rates of efficacy and are known to create scar tissue and nerve damage, both of which can cause more pain.  

As if this weren't ridiculous enough, in spite of explaining to these doctors how epidural steroid injections not only didn't work for me, but robbed me of my life by tripling my pain and making my condition much worse (see “Disabled by the War on Opioids”), every single one of the doctors I've seen still tries to push more of those injections on me.  

My head spins every time I hear them try to sell me on more injections. Are they deaf, insane, just trying to make their wallets fatter, or all three?

On what planet does it make sense to do more of what made a thing worse

Ever since my life was ruined by those injections 5 years ago, I've been desperately trying to find a doctor who truly cares about my well-being and wants to help me. My search has been fruitless so far.  

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Sadly, it just keeps getting worse. The latest doctor I started seeing keeps pushing a pain pump on me. That is as absurd as it gets. Multiple doctors have told me that the reason those injections made my back pain worse is because they caused adhesive arachnoiditis or nerve damage – both of which can be made worse with invasive procedures.  

Why would any doctor push a pain pump on me? I could understand it for a patient with a history of drug abuse, but that is not the case with me. Not only do I have zero history of drug or alcohol abuse, but I have taken my pain meds responsibly for many years. Why should I submit to being put under anesthesia, cut open and have a device implanted in me, all which can have serious complications, when I can get the same medication in a pill that I took responsibly for many years? 

All of the surgeons say that my best option for improved quality of life is pain medication and staying as active and mobile as possible. Yet every interventional pain management doctor ignores their advice and pushes for injections, spinal cord stimulators or pain pumps. Why would they do that?  

It's simple.  According to my Medicare statements, a doctor makes about $75 per visit to write and maintain prescription medications. But with the injections, it's $1,000 and up!

Many times I've personally seen doctors perform unnecessary tests that pay them a lot of money and only for that reason. This is not just my opinion, as other doctors I've seen have confirmed this. Not all doctors are like this and I wouldn't even venture to say most, but the fact is there are plenty of them out there. 

I'm not saying any of this to bash doctors. I'm sharing this information in hopes that people take the time to get educated, be vigilant and be their own advocate when it comes to their healthcare. Doctors are only human. They're just as susceptible to flaws as anyone else. I can't impress enough on all of you to look out for yourselves and get second, third, fourth and even fifth opinions if needed.

If you think that sounds excessive, just think about what happened to me. They took away what was working for me and used a non-FDA approved procedure on me that wasn't even designed for what they were using it for. The end result was that it crippled me, robbed me of my ability to work, forced me into a life of poverty and disability, and took away my freedom, my dignity and my ability to properly care for myself. 

Simply put... It has devastated my life.

I don't post any this for sympathy. I am only trying to educate and inform people about what can happen if they put too much faith in doctors without doing some research. What happened to me is a prime example of just how essential it is that we patients be as proactive as possible, be our own advocates and protect ourselves. 

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Michael Emelio lives in Florida.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Faulty Medical Devices Blamed for Thousands of Deaths

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said today it would take steps to modernize and improve its oversight of medical devices in the wake of a scathing new report that found faulty devices were responsible for over 83,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries worldwide in the last decade.

The “Implant Files” project, a year-long joint investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and over 50 media partners, found that the FDA approved many devices with little clinical testing and rarely pulled them off the market when problems arose.

Spinal cord stimulators have some of the worst safety records among the 4,000 devices tracked by the FDA, the ICIJ found. Stimulators are implanted near the spine and send electric currents to block pain signals from reaching the brain. The devices are often touted as safer alternatives to opioid pain medication and about 60,000 are now implanted annually.

But a review of FDA data found over 500 deaths and 80,000 injuries involving stimulators since 2008. Patients reported being shocked or burned by the devices and many had them removed.  

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“I thought I would have a wonderful life,” a disabled 45-year old South Carolina man told the Associated Press. “But look at me.”

Jim Taft’s doctor told him a spinal cord stimulator would cloak the chronic pain in his severely injured right arm and make him “good as new.” But a wire in the device broke and after an operation to repair it, Taft said it shocked him so many times he had trouble sleeping and fell down a flight of stairs. The stimulator was removed within a year of being implanted and Taft is now bedridden.  

“This is my death sentence,” Taft said from his bed. “I’ll die here.”

Outdated FDA Review Process

Artificial hips, pain pumps, spinal disc replacements and hundreds of other devices were also found to be faulty, raising concern about the level of scrutiny they received before going on the market.   

“In contrast to drugs, many surgical innovations are introduced without clinical trial data or centrally held evidence,” Professor Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeon, told The Guardian.  “This is a risk to patient safety and public confidence.”

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said his agency would modernize its “outdated” 40-year old review process for medical devices.

“The new technology that we’re seeing holds tremendous public health promise for patients. But with the advances also come new complexities that can make the review of safety and effectiveness more challenging,” Gottlieb said in a statement.

“Advances in material science, digital health, 3D printing and other technologies continue to drive an unparalleled period of invention in medical devices. It’s vital that the FDA’s regulatory approach continue to evolve and modernize to safely and efficiently advance these opportunities. Not only must we keep pace with this complexity and innovation, but we must also stay ahead of the new and evolving risks that sometimes accompany this progress.”

Gottlieb said about 20% of medical devices are based on technology that is more than 10 years old. He said the FDA would consider releasing a list of those devices in order to stimulate the use of newer technologies.

“To be clear, we don’t believe devices that rely on old predicates are unsafe, or that older devices need to be removed from the market. However, we believe that encouraging product developers to use more modern predicates would give patients and their doctors a choice among older and newer versions of a type of device,” Gottlieb said.

Do you have a medical device and want to check its safety record? The ICIJ has a database of over 70,000 recalls, safety alerts and safety notices in 11 countries. You can search by the device name or manufacturer by clicking here.

#MeToo and Bad Doctors

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

I recently had a really bad experience with a doctor.

He tried to pressure me into getting a spinal cord stimulator that multiple doctors have said I should not get. And when I tried to say no, he got visibly angry and started being incredibly condescending.

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He said my other doctors didn’t know what they were talking about. That I didn’t know what I what I was talking about. That the internet didn’t know what it was talking about. That everyone else was wrong, he was right and to disagree was painfully stupid.

And I have to tell you something, it impacted the same part of my brain and my soul that gets damaged every time a man tries to force me to do what I don’t want to do in a sexual situation. When he pushes well beyond all my boundaries, insisting on a date after I clearly said no. Insisting on more in bed, after I clearly said no.

I felt just as vulnerable in his office as I have with horrible men in their cars who tried to force me to kiss them while they ignored texts from their wives.

I can only imagine that this doctor is a man who is not used to hearing the word no, and I would guess that as much as he doesn’t like to hear it from his patients, he doesn’t like to hear it in romantic encounters either.

I was stressed about the whole thing for weeks after. And when I had to go back to his office for a treatment only they do locally, I had a nightmare the night before that the nurses there were chasing me down flights of endless stairs and setting my hair on fire.

Dreams are weird. But they are often a reflection of some larger truth. And the larger truth here was that the whole thing made me feel violated. And scared.

This was a man who wanted to do something to my body that I was clearly against him doing. And when I resisted, he just pushed harder to get his way and then insulted me for declining. It’s not so different from what many women face from men in the bedroom. And it felt just as traumatic for me.

There is a cultural shift happening for women. There’s #MeToo and #TimesUp, and as the French say, #BalanceTonPorc -- or squeal on your pig. The painful reckoning is happening, as we realize that half the population are actually human beings too.  

But if you are struggling to understand how it feels to be viewed as inferior all the time — either because you’re a man or one of the lucky women who hasn’t experienced it — I can tell you that sitting across from a doctor who doesn’t believe you, doesn’t trust you, and who implies you are too stupid to make decisions about your own body is a very similar feeling.

I wish I had some wise words to end this column on — that I could share some wisdom about how to make the world a better place. But the truth is, I don’t really know how to do that, at least not in any practical way that goes beyond just freaking be kind to the other people you encounter.

So I’ll just leave you with this potential for some sort of justice. I have reported this doctor. He is being investigated. And hopefully, it will save other patients the pain of such an experience — at least from him.

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Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since 2013.

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

No, I Don’t Want a Spinal Cord Stimulator

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

There’s a word that my best friend came up with that we now use when someone is being obscenely awful: J-hole.

It’s a mix between a jack [redacted] and an [redacted] hole. Get it? J-hole. You’d be surprised how useful it is. Especially around kids.

And can I just tell you something? The pain specialist I saw yesterday? He was a real J-hole.

I used to think I just had a string of bad luck when it came to doctors and it was some weird coincidence that most of the ones I met were J-holes.

But now I’m starting to wonder if there’s something about the medical profession that has a way of attracting an above average number of J-holes.

Yes, there are good ones. I think I’ve met two of them — in six years with chronic pain. But most of the doctors I see? Well, they’re J-holes. And this guy was one of the ones that prove the rule.

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He is obsessed with me getting a spinal cord stimulator. But I do not want to get a spinal cord stimulator. It’s created some friction.

This was only my second time meeting with him. He oversees a local pain clinic where I now get my weekly lidocaine infusions. It’s been great, because before I found this place, I had to drive two hours each way to the closest university hospital for the infusions. And I am too sick to drive afterward, so I was always begging people for rides. This place is about a half hour from my house, and right by my mom’s work, so it’s super convenient.

But every single time I go in, they try to sell me on this spinal cord stimulator thing. And I’m just not interested.

I usually see another doctor, a woman. Technically, I think she’s a nurse practitioner. And she at least has the ability to read a room. She presents the spinal cord stimulator every week like one of those cashiers at Kohl’s who is required by corporate law to ask if you want to sign up for a credit card, but who knows just as well as you do that you’re never going to be interested. And then we both move on. 

She’s in Mexico for Christmas though, so yesterday I had to see the J-hole guy. And he’s not someone who likes to hear the word no.

He asked me if I was interested in the stimulator, and I told him I wasn’t. Then he asked why not, so I told him I talked to my primary care doctor and he didn’t recommend it, which was true.

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My PCP, who is an internal specialist at a university hospital — so you know, qualified — said I probably wouldn’t get much more relief than I get from the infusions, and that I would probably still need to take hydrocodone.

He also told me that a fair number of the patients he knows who got a stimulator ended up getting infections from it. And so for now, he recommends that I stick with the lidocaine infusions.

I trust this guy. He’s been my PCP for like five years and he has always taken my pain seriously. He’s one of the two doctors I’ve met who is not a J-hole.

And you know what this pain specialist said when I told him what my PCP said?

“Well that guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Ok. Cool.

So then I told him that I write for a pain site online and I’m pretty connected to the pain community and I have heard nothing but bad things about these stimulators. They’re hard to remove. The batteries die. They don’t work that well.

His response to that was, “You can’t believe everything you read online.”

Always a good thing to say to someone who just told you they write for an online publication, am I right? My sister was in the room and told me later she wanted to laugh in his face when he said that.

Then he tried to lecture me about getting weekly infusions and said insurance wasn’t going to be willing to cover those forever, and in my head I was like, OK, did my insurance tell you that? Or are you just annoyed that I come in here every single week and give you hundreds of dollars in revenue for what is basically a simple IV, and you would prefer that I stop? Because I can always go back to the hospital for infusions, where they at least offered me graham crackers every week.

His main selling point was that the stimulator would free up my life, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the weekly infusions. It’s an argument that makes sense to healthy people, but what he doesn’t understand is that the infusions are what have freed up my life.

Before the lidocaine, I was lucky to get one good day a year. Now I spend one day each week dealing with an IV drug that makes me nauseous and tired and then I get the whole rest of the week to live my best life. It’s amazing! Plus, I get the added benefit of not having to have surgery on my spine.

Look, at the end of the day, the idea of getting something implanted into my spine just doesn’t sit well with me, even if complications are rare. Especially since I have a bad habit of having rare medical issues.

And it’s hard to take a doctor seriously when you know he stands to make thousands of dollars if I get the stimulator. But for now, I’m stuck going to this pain clinic for my infusions because everyone else in town says they are too risky to do.

But no, I’m not going to be getting a spinal cord stimulator. Maybe I’ll change my mind though. After all, you can’t believe everything you read online.

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Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

FDA Approves Advanced Spinal Cord Stimulator

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new spinal cord stimulator developed by Medtronic that can be managed, tracked and updated remotely on a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

The Intellis stimulator is designed for patients with chronic, intractable pain of the trunk and/or limbs.

The Intellis platform can track patient activity 24/7 on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet, enabling physicians to personalize the settings for individual patients and monitor their progress using Medtronic’s Evolve software system. 

"The launch of the Intellis platform isn't just about a new device, but about combining cutting edge hardware with optimal therapy through the Evolve workflow to enable personalized, long-term pain relief," said Marshall Stanton, MD, president of Medtronic's Pain Therapies division.

“The Intellis platform was designed based on what is most important to patients and physicians. We considered the entire patient journey - starting with the primary goal of optimal pain relief and access to important diagnostic tools, like MRI, to ease of use with simplified programming, faster recharge and a smaller implant."

MEDTRONIC PHOTO

MEDTRONIC PHOTO

Spinal cord stimulators (SCS) are often considered the treatment of last resort for chronic back and leg pain, because the devices have to be surgically implanted near the spine and connected to batteries placed under the skin. The implants send electrical impulses into the spine to mask pain.

Some patients find the stimulators ineffective and have them removed. According to one study, only about half of patients who received a traditional SCS device have a 50 percent reduction in their back and leg pain. New technologies are being developed to make the devices smaller, more effective and easier to recharge.

Medtronic says Intellis is the world's smallest fully implantable SCS neurostimulator. Its battery can be fully recharged from empty to full in about one hour and physicians can estimate recharge intervals based on therapy settings. Software upgrades are also easier to get through Samsung Galaxy tablets.

"We are excited to partner with Medtronic in their aim to simplify programming, and streamline therapy management with the Intellis platform," said Dr. Dave Rhew, chief medical officer and head of Healthcare and Fitness for Samsung Electronics America. "Samsung's Galaxy tablets-secured by the HIPAA-ready Samsung Knox mobile security platform-will support future Medtronic therapies and over the air (OTA) software upgrades to ensure clinicians using Intellis have access to the most up-to-date solutions."

One of the first implantation procedures using the Intellis platform was performed at Duke University Medical Center.

"Chronic pain is challenging to manage. Having real-time data can provide more information about patients' quality-of-life changes. This platform represents a welcome new option for managing some kinds of chronic pain," said Lance Roy, MD, a pain medicine specialist at Duke University Medical Center.

Spinal Cord Stimulators Reduce Opioid Use

By Pat Anson, Editor

Most patients who have a spinal cord stimulator significantly reduce their use of opioid pain medication one year after their implant, according to new industry-funded research.

In an analysis of private and Medicare insurance claims from 5,476 patients who received a spinal cord stimulator (SCS), opioid use declined or stabilized in 70 percent of the patients. Opioid use was higher among patients who had the stimulator removed.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the North American Neuromodulation Society (NANS), was sponsored by Abbott (NYSE: ABT), a manufacturer of SCS systems and other medical devices.

"Given the epidemic of opioid addiction and abuse, these findings are important and confirm that spinal cord stimulation therapy can offer strong benefits for patients struggling with chronic pain," said Ashwini Sharan, MD, president of NANS and director of Functional and Epilepsy Surgery at Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience.

"Based on these results, we concluded it may be possible to improve outcomes by offering our patients spinal cord stimulation earlier, before opioid dependence and addiction can occur."

Spinal cord stimulators have long been considered the treatment of last resort for chronic back and leg pain, because the devices have to be surgically implanted near the spine and connected to batteries placed under the skin. The implants send electrical impulses into the spine to mask pain.

Some patients find the stimulators ineffective and have them removed. According to one study, only about half of patients who received a traditional SCS device have a 50 percent reduction in their back and leg pain.

New technologies have been developed to make the devices more effective, easier to recharge and to reduce complications such as paresthesia – a tingling or buzzing sensation.

And with government regulators and insurers discouraging the use of opioid pain medication, the medical device industry is urging patients and doctors to take another look at SCS devices.

X-RAY OF PATIENT WITH MEDTRONIC SCS DEVICE

X-RAY OF PATIENT WITH MEDTRONIC SCS DEVICE

"As our society has been seeking ways to stem opioid abuse and addition, our company offers treatment options that can reduce their exposure to opioid medication," said Allen Burton, MD, medical director of neuromodulation at Abbott in a news release. "Data like these are critical to helping us demonstrate that spinal cord stimulation can reduce exposure to opioids while giving patients comprehensive pain relief."

Abbot recently purchased St. Jude Medical, giving the medical device maker its first exposure to the SCS and neuromodulation market, which has an estimated value of $5.3 billion.

"Non-medical pain relief is a focus with attention on the dangers of pain medication and the need to find alternatives to reduce chronic pain," said Bruce Carlson, Publisher of Kalorama Information, a research firm that tracks the neuromodulation market. "Abbott builds on its cardiovascular device properties with this deal, and that is a big focus of press coverage.  St. Jude's impressive spinal cord offering should not be obscured in this transaction."

Senza Stimulator Rated More Effective Long Term

By Pat Anson, Editor

A two-year study of an innovative spinal cord stimulator shows the device is more effective at relieving chronic back and leg pain long term than traditional stimulators.

The Senza HF10 spinal cord stimulator uses high frequency pulses of 10,000 Hz to mask a patient’s perception of pain. Traditional stimulators typically use lower frequencies at 40 to 60 Hz.  

Spinal cord stimulators (SCS) are often considered the treatment of last resort for chronic back and leg pain, because the devices have to be surgically placed near the spine and connected to batteries implanted under the skin. The devices send electrical impulses into the spine to mask pain.

In a study of 171 patients with implanted SCS devices, 76% of those with back pain and 73% with leg pain had pain relief after 24 months with the Senza HF10. That compares to about 50% of the patients implanted with a traditional stimulator.

image courtesy nevro

image courtesy nevro

The Senza stimulator is made by Nevro Corp. (NYSE: NVRO) a medical device company in Redwood City, California.

"By demonstrating a significant and durable decrease in back and leg pain over a two-year period, Nevro's HF10 therapy represents an important and evidence-based advance in pain medicine,” said Leo Kapural, MD, the lead author and principal investigator of the study, which is published in the journal Neurosurgery.  

“Extending comparative safety and efficacy outcomes from 12 to 24 months provides physicians, patients, and payers with rigorous evidence demonstrating the durability of SCS in treating chronic pain.”

The Senza SCS was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year. It has been available in Europe and Australia for several years.

Nevro says the HF10 stimulator is the only SCS therapy that provides pain relief without paresthesia -- a tingling or buzzing sensation that lower-frequency stimulators use to help mask pain signals. Some patients have found paresthesia uncomfortable.

MarketsandMarkets, a market research firm based in Dallas, estimates the global market for spinal cord stimulators and other neuromodulation devices could reach $6.8 billion by 2017.