Drug giant Pfizer has this morning launched a new campaign designed to get patients suffering from chronic pain talking to each other, to improve communication and accelerate diagnosis of the condition.

The Pain Exchange is an online forum designed to promote conversation about pain between patients to help them "find the language, and therefore confidence, to use when talking to their GP", the group said.

The move comes after research has shown that more than a quarter of people affected by chronic pain suffer in silence, and that many find it difficult to effectively communicate their experience of pain to GPs and so are not diagnosed.

Explaining the rationale behind the campaign, Pfizer said that if patients are better able to communicate their symptoms during a consultation, GPs will be more likely to diagnose the condition and therefore offer appropriate treatment and support.

"The subjective nature of pain and the patient challenges in accurately describing their symptoms mean that GPs find it hard to define, measure and accurately diagnose chronic pain," explained Roger Henderson, GP and Pain Exchange supporter. 

"To add to the pressure on GPs, there is only one pain specialist per 32,000 sufferers in the UK to support the work of primary care. This increased pressure demonstrates the need for GPs to understand chronic pain and how to effectively and efficiently manage and treat patients at the point of consultation”, he stressed.

The Pain Exchange was developed as a UK & Ireland pilot under the wider Pfizer-funded European awareness campaign Can You Feel My Pain?, in collaboration with Action on Pain, Arthritis Care, BackCare, Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation, Pain Association Scotland, PainConcern, Pain UK, The Patients Association and the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association.

Unmet need

Meanwhile, data from a survey published this week of more than 1,000 chronic pain sufferers in Europe suggest that millions of patients are still suffering on a daily basis despite trying several treatment options. 

The Painful Truth Survey: The State of Pain Management in Europe, which was sponsored by US group Boston Scientific and supported by others, including Action on Pain UK, the Spanish Pain Association and the German Pain League, found that more than a third of sufferers struggle with routine daily tasks affecting their work and personal lives, their relationships and the ability to care for their children.  

“For many patients, conventional medication or surgery is not the answer and we need to be exploring how best to use innovative and cost-effective technologies as they emerge,” said Simon Thomson, Consultant in Pain Medicine and Neuromodulation at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom.

Although the exact figure is unknown, poorly managed chronic pain is cost the UK economy billions; around 4.6 million GP appointments every year are accounted for by the condition, at a cost of £69 million, while back pain alone is estimated to cost economy £12.3 billion a year in direct and indirect costs, according to Arthritis Care UK.