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Persistent pain - a costly pain to bear

"Persistent pain is one of the most costly healthcare problems in Australia with one in five Australian adults suffering from the condition. The human cost on individuals and families is also significant since many of these Australians bear more than half the cost themselves. Now that we know the cost of pain, we can take positive steps towards improving the lives of Australians living with persistent pain." Dr Christine Bennett Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia

Important research into the cost of persistent pain

The Bupa Health Foundation (formerly the MBF Foundation), in collaboration with the University of Sydney's Pain Medicine Research Institute (PMRI), commissioned Access Economics to determine the cost of persistent pain. Although we believed it was important for an enormous number of people, until now there's been no data on the broader impact or cost of pain.

The result was the Bupa Health Foundation's landmark report The High Price of Pain.

The report drew on research that shows about one in five Australian adults suffer from persistent pain. This translates into 36.5 million lost work days per year, making it one of the most costly healthcare problems in Australia.

The human cost on individuals and families is just as significant.

Why do we need to measure the cost of persistent pain?

The Bupa Health Foundation and PMRI believe that once we know the cost of pain, we can show why it needs to be a higher national health priority. A national response to the problem could then be coordinated.

Findings from the study will be used to identify the best ways to effectively manage the condition. Not only will this save healthcare dollars, it will also help patients achieve more productive, enjoyable lives.

What is the cost of persistent pain in Australia?

The report revealed that the annual cost of pain is a massive $34.3 billion. This is nearly $11,000 for each of the estimated 3.2 million people who live with almost daily persistent pain.

The study also found that people with persistent pain have to bear more than half the financial cost themselves.

It also suggested that a big chunk of the $7 billion spent directly by the health system could be saved if pain was better managed.

What are the main forms of pain?

  • Lower back pain
  • Headache and migraine
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Injury (more common in men)
  • Work-related accidents

A third of people can't identify an event that caused their pain.

What is the impact of persistent pain?

Pain can result in sleep deprivation, depression, irritability, fatigue and can also affect personal and social relationships.

Pain also has a significant impact on a person's ability to work. This imposes real costs on the economy and the individual.

  • Pain is best managed by a team of healthcare providers.
  • There needs to be more support for employers to assist with employee retention such as - information, resources and options for workplace modifications. This would encourage employers to retain jobs for workers affected by pain.
  • Employers could offer better job flexibility, which would increase productivity.
  • People with pain shouldn't wait to see a doctor. Early assessment and intervention is important.
  • Funding for carers is needed, particularly for better education and services.
  • More attention needs to be paid to lower socio-economic groups such as those living in regional areas, older people and those from non-English speaking backgrounds. These groups are more likely to suffer from persistent pain.
  • More funding for pain research is needed to better understand the problem, evaluate treatments and reduce the consequences of persistent pain.

Facts about persistent pain from the report

  • More women (54 percent) suffer from pain than men.
  • Persistent pain is most common in women aged 50 - 54, for example from migraine or post-surgery pain such as breast removal after cancer.
  • However, males experience a higher number of days away from work and are less effective at work if they suffer from persistent pain.
  • Only 30.9 percent of people with persistent pain are in full-time employment, compared with 42.8 percent of people without persistent pain.
  • There is little information for employers about managing employees with persistent pain. Workplace adaptation and job redesign is a significant problem.
  • Older people are more likely to suffer persistent pain than younger people, although a surprising number of children and adolescents still experience it. This can have adverse, long-term effects on their education.

Read the report

Access Economics. The high price of pain: the economic impact of persistent pain in Australia. Nov 2007. Report available here. [bupa health foundation_pain report_nov07.pdf]

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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