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Measuring a patient’s pain is an inexact science

On Behalf of | May 13, 2024 | Long Term Disability Claim Denial

Some individuals who are applying for disability benefits are dealing with chronic pain. This could be because of a distinct medical condition that causes pain, which may or may not be treatable. It could also be long-term pain from a past injury, such as nerve damage that never fully heals. 

This pain could be so substantial that the person can no longer work, which is why they are seeking ERISA benefits and/or disability benefits in the first place. It is certainly true that chronic pain may qualify as a disability. But one of the hurdles they face is that it’s difficult for doctors and nurses to judge a patient’s pain level.

How do they do it?

In some cases, hospitals will use single-dimensional scales. Typically, the patient just self reports their pain level. They may have symbols or numbers that help them identify how severe the pain is at that moment.

For example, doctors will sometimes ask a patient to rate their own pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. The patient may say that their pain is an eight. 

But it’s important to note that there’s no way for the doctor to actually know if the pain that they are feeling is more or less severe than anyone else. One person with a high pain tolerance – perhaps because they have been dealing with the condition that is causing them chronic pain – may only rate their pain level at a three, while someone else would say it is a nine. Those two patients may be experiencing the exact same sensations, but doctors can’t test for it the same way they can run a CT scan or an MRI.

These types of medical difficulties can make it more complex to get proper benefits. Those in this position may find it helpful to explore their options by contacting an attorney, such as ERISA Law Center.