Blog Viewer

Member Spotlight: Dr. Alopi Patel Wants to Talk About Women’s Chronic Pain

As an anesthesiologist and pain physician who just happens to be a woman, Alopi Patel, MD, has seen firsthand how gender disparities persist in our understanding of women’s health-related pain conditions. In this ASA Member Spotlight, she shares how she is empowering women to take more initiative in their own care – starting with an invitation to talk about what it’s really like living with chronic pain.



We hear you host a podcast! Can you tell us a little bit about your show and how it came about?

In the first few years of my pain practice, I started to focus on women’s health-related pain conditions, including pelvic pain, fibromyalgia and migraines. The reason for this was because as early as medical school, I recognized gender disparities in medicine. Women were often labeled as “dramatic” when endorsing issues related to pain, particularly when it was pelvic in origin. Thus, I started my career as a pain physician, empowered to focus my practice on women’s health and chronic pain conditions.

Fast forward to the summer of 2020 when, we were just recovering from the COVID surge in NYC I was thinking about all the patients who were experiencing pain-related symptoms, yet were hesitant to leave their homes to be evaluated and treated. While I was listening to a podcast on my way to work one day, it hit me...why not make a podcast about women’s health and pelvic pain conditions to deliver the information to patients?

Using social media would be an ideal way to educate and empower women on their own health conditions. I called my friend and fellow pain physician, Meera Kirpekar, MD, together we recognized the value to our patients in pursuing this project. That's how The Hurt Podcast by The Female Pain Docs came to be! It has been a laborious process with months of planning while learning about the mechanics and challenges of podcasting, but we are excited to see our passion project come to fruition.

In addition to podcasting, we also ventured into the world of social media. Meera and I have created an Instagram page (@thefemalepaindocs) where we create short videos and micro-blogs educating patients in an understandable manner. As physicians, we are learning the intricacies of social media in a different light. We see so much potential for education and advocacy, both for physicians and patients. At the same time, we have also seen the amount of misinformation that exists which is why it was even more important that we create a forum for patients to have access to medically accurate information coming from trained medical professionals.


Why do you think it’s important for women to discuss their health issues in a public format?

For years, many women’s health related topics--from contraception to pelvic pain to menopause--have been considered taboo or improper to discuss publicly, but the truth of the matter is that women deal with these very real issues on a daily basis and the issues can be debilitating. If we can educate and empower women (and men), we can create awareness which is the first step to actually effecting change. By discussing these topics in a public forum, such as in a podcast or through social media, we as a society can become a resource, and impetus for improvements in quality of life.


Do you think that, generally speaking, women have a harder time advocating for their care? If so, what do you think is driving that and how might it be addressed within the medical field?

Yes, I believe some women may not feel comfortable to speaking about their health-related issues, especially those considered intimate, such as pelvic pain or matters of sexual health. When it comes to sexual conditions, both men and women may have a harder time expressing their concerns and often even face a social stigma for seeking help.

One of the ways we can help all patients advocate for their care is by educating them on their conditions and empowering them to speak up. This is accomplished by also educating healthcare workers including physicians, physical therapists, psychotherapists and others. This is exactly what Meera and I hope to accomplish with our The Female Pain Docs platform. To promote a public discussion of both general and stigmatized topics that patients are either hesitant or not knowledgeable enough to ask about. Change starts with the awareness of knowing, and accepting, that there is a problem. 


What is “lifestyle medicine'' and do you think it plays a role in the field of anesthesiology? 

Lifestyle medicine is a branch of medicine based on the concept of preventative healthcare for the treatment of disorders caused by lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity, chronic stress, and self-destructive behaviors including the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. The pillars of lifestyle medicine can be applied into almost any specialty of medicine by focusing on educating and motivating patients to change personal habits.  This may include the implementation of a whole food (mostly plant based) diet, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and positive social connection. Poor lifestyle choices can contribute and exacerbate chronic disease including chronic pain.

As a pain physician, lifestyle medicine absolutely plays a role in the comprehensive management of a patient's pain condition. As an anesthesiologist, there are more subtle ways that the facets of lifestyle medicine play a role. There has been emerging literature regarding the utility of meditation and mindfulness-based techniques for reduction in symptoms of chronic pain as well as the use of cognitive behavioral therapy for reduction of pain scores in the perioperative period. There is also literature on the concept of perioperative prehabilitation, which incorporates many aspects of lifestyle medicine.

So yes, I absolutely believe the facets of lifestyle medicine play an important role in the perioperative period! As I learn more about lifestyle medicine in preparation for my lifestyle medicine board certification, I am eager to incorporate aspects of this into my treatment plans for patients as well as into perioperative counseling for patients presenting for surgery. 


Is there anything we haven’t ask you that you’d like to talk about here?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my dual passions of women’s health and lifestyle medicine! I hope by speaking about these topics, and specifically in the context of the field of anesthesiology, we can create awareness and bring about positive change for our patients. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any topics you would like us to address on our podcast! It is a privilege to have a public forum to empower and educate our patients while also creating awareness about the important role physicians play in the care of patients in the perioperative period and in the management of chronic pain.



Alopi M. Patel, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai Morningside and West Hospitals in New York City. She is a dual board-certified anesthesiologist and pain physician, with a passion for women’s health. She recently co-started a podcast called The Hurt Podcast by The Female Pain Docs, which focuses on women’s health-related topics in the fields of anesthesiology, pain medicine and lifestyle medicine. 


#MemberSpotlight
#PainMedicine
#WomenAnesthesiologists
#HealthEquity
#WIMM

ASA Community Blog is published as a benefit for ASA members. The views expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributing writers only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of ASA.

Permalink

Comments

4 days ago

​Thank you Dr Patel for highlighting the disparity of these patients with chronic pain.  I think it is important as anesthesiologists for us to understand their struggles when we might be seeing them for an anesthetic.  I agree with you that lifestyle medicine is vital to their well-being and the better we understand these patients, the better care we can provide.

4 days ago

​Thank you Dr Patel for highlighting the disparity of these patients with chronic pain.  I think it is important as anesthesiologists for us to understand their struggles when we might be seeing them for an anesthetic.  I agree with you that lifestyle medicine is vital to their well-being and the better we understand these patients, the better care we can provide.