Growing a Comprehensive Pain Management Practice: Q&A With Pain Specialists of Charleston
Q: What makes Pain Specialists of Charleston unique?
Erica DeGroff: We genuinely care about getting our patients back to the things that matter to them. Everyone's pain is different. With each patient we have to find out, "What is your qualify of life, and what are you able to do and not able to do that we can help you with?" For example, if a patient just wants to garden, we can get them there. It's not just one thing that we're good at. We have many treatment options at our disposal, so we can really create customized treatment plans for our patients.
Q: When did you start participating in clinical trials?
ED: We started doing clinical trials in 2010 because we have such a large patient database — we have anywhere from 18,000 to 20,000 patients treated on an annual basis. So when it comes to a new medication, like a medication to treat opioid-induced constipation, we are appealing to pharmaceutical companies in the sense that we have a large segment of the pain population to pull from.
Q: What has been your biggest operational challenge thus far?
Dr. Edward Tavel: The single biggest operational challenge has been space — we didn't anticipate growing so rapidly. There is a tremendous need for what we do in this community, and our growth has been rapid over the last several years. I'd say we've grown 30 to 40 percent each year. So we're opening a new facility that will be centrally located in the Charleston area and closer to a major interstate. It's not far from where we're currently practicing.
Rick Grooms: We're already seeing patients in a 50- to 70-mile radius outside of the immediate Charleston area, and we're looking to continue to expand our services. We're in the process of constructing a new building that is at least twice the size of what we have currently. The business of pain has evolved — there are more procedures, more clinical trials. The cost of reimbursements is changing, and we have to diversify what we do to stay competitive.
Q: What changes do you anticipate to your practice following the move?
RG: We do anticipate having to add staff as we continue to grow. I would anticipate additional staff in all areas — physicians, clinical staff, nurses, people in research, massage therapy. Personnel in all of those areas will be needed.
Q: How do you market your practice?
ET: The local community is not traditionally aware of what we can offer. They hear about us through word-of-mouth if we took care of their aunt or brother. We also educate the community — we get them to see pain management as an opportunity to get relief and to get off pills they've been on for years.
ED: We like to do "lunch and learns" within in the community, and we educate primary care physicians about pain. We tell them about drugs that work for shingles pain, or neurostimulation options. We also have nursing home coffee talks, where a nurse practitioner goes to a retirement home to talk to the family caregivers of pain management patients. They discuss how to keep that patient safe, ensure that they take the right drugs, and address any concerns about remaining active or aware. We also visit different societies of professionals, like safety engineers and those operating heavy machinery, to make sure they're not doing any kind of damage to their spine.
Q: How have new developments in pain medicine affected your operations?
ED: A growing area is the psychological side — we're working with colleges and support groups to address the fact that chronic pain is an ongoing issues, and people with pain can work with other people to address their needs and concerns. For some people, pain will not go away — it is a chronic condition that they must learn how to manage. We refer patients to a pain psychologist in the area if they have issues with coping skills, and that will be expanding in the future as we grow the support aspect of the practice.
ET: The neurostimulation technology is so sophisticated now, and it is a lifestyle changer for so many people. We do a lot of it, and the patients do very well. In general, we do a lot of research with major pharma — having access to these cutting-edge drugs and treatments has a huge impact.
We are also comprehensive — we don't just do injections. We have a physical therapist, psychologists, medical management and massage therapists. We offer research in pain medicine. Everything is under one roof, and it has been really helpful for patients to have a one-stop shop. Our patients have a lot of options.
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