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E. How Doctors Can Better Control Pain

Narrator: This is Science Today. There are over two million deaths a year in the United States and more than half of these deaths occurs in hospitals. Steve Pantilat, a hospitalist at the University of California, San Francisco, says up to forty percent of people, regardless of the illness they had at the time of death, suffered moderate to severe pain.

Pantilat: These are people who are hospitalized. They're being cared for in an intensive care unit, so they had plenty of access to medical care and yet, they had moderate to severe pain at the end of life.

Narrator: A previous study found one of the reasons for this was the doctors' inability to adequately assess pain. In his own research, Pantilat, found doctors who simply believed their patients were in pain, were better at controlling it.

Pantilat: What I say to doctors when I teach about this is believe the patient. We have no way to measure whether someone is in pain. There's no machine. There's no blood test to tell whether or not a person is in pain. And in particular, people who have chronic pain, those people don't even look like they're in pain. And yet, what we know is that we're not very good at telling and we have to believe the patient..

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.