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.