The number of people taking part in physiotherapy, which uses high-intensity exercise to help heal, is expected to fall by more than one-third over the next five years.
A new report from the American College of Physicians (ACP) found the number of patients seeing doctors who specialize in treating chronic pain has dropped by more in the last year than it has in the previous five years, and that this trend is likely to continue.
The report by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AOA) found that by 2020, less than one in five physicians working in the field will be trained to treat chronic pain.
This is in stark contrast to the number in the US who currently see roughly one in 10,000 people with chronic pain, and the figure is expected more to decline as the cost of treating chronic conditions continues to fall.
The AOA said this trend has “serious implications for the future of medicine”.
“Physicians will be less likely to prescribe drugs to treat pain if their primary focus is on treating chronic disease and not pain,” said Dr Elizabeth McBride, chair of the AOA’s committee on pain management and co-chair of the ACP’s Pain and Neurology Subcommittee.
“In the meantime, patients will continue to receive unnecessary and costly care for their conditions.”
The AOCS report also found that in 2016, the proportion of Americans who had seen a physician for chronic pain was higher than the previous year.
But by 2020 there was a sharp decrease, with the proportion seeing a physician who specialized in chronic pain falling from around 30 per cent to 20 per cent.
The decline is also expected to be much steeper in 2021, the AOCP said.
The committee said the decline in doctors who saw chronic pain could have an impact on patient outcomes and health.
“This decrease in care will likely result in a decrease in the number and severity of chronic pain conditions and an increased risk of complications, such as infections, which can lead to higher rates of morbidity and mortality,” the report said.AOA president Dr Mark Rosenberg said the committee was “fearful” that this will lead to more doctors leaving the field.
“Physician-led training in the physical therapy field is vital for health professionals to understand the full range of symptoms associated with chronic health conditions, such the impact on quality of life, and to provide accurate information on chronic pain management,” Dr Rosenberg said.
“With the growing number of chronic conditions, there is a pressing need for doctors to become better at recognizing and managing symptoms, as well as being able to treat those conditions effectively and efficiently.”