- 2010;13;305-315Pain Assessment: Subjectivity, Objectivity, and the Use of Neurotechnology
James Giordano, PhD, Kim Abramson, MA, and Mark V. Boswell, MD, PhD.
The pain clinician is confronted with the formidable task of objectifying the subjective phenomenon of pain so as to determine the right treatments for both the pain syndrome and the patient in whom the pathology is expressed. However, the experience of pain — and its expression — remains enigmatic. Can currently available evaluative tools, questionnaires, and scales actually provide adequately objective information about the experiential dimensions of pain? Can, or will, current and future iterations of biotechnology — whether used singularly or in combination (with other technologies as well as observational-behavioral methods) — afford objective validation of pain? And what of the clinical, ethical, legal and social issues that arise in and from the use — and potential misuse — of these approaches? Subsequent trajectories of clinical care depend upon the findings gained through the use of these techniques and their inappropriate employment – or misinterpretation of the results they provide — can lead to misdiagnoses and incorrect treatment.
This essay is the first of a two-part series that explicates how the intellectual tasks of knowing about pain and the assessment of its experience and expression in the pain patient are constituent to the moral responsibility of pain medicine. Herein, we discuss the problem of pain and its expression, and those methods, techniques, and technologies available to bridge the gap between subjective experience and objective evaluation. We address how these assessment approaches are fundamental to apprehend both pain as an objective, neurological event, and its impact upon the subjective experience, existence, and expectations of the person in pain. In this way, we argue that the right use of technology — together with inter-subjectivity, compassion, and insight — can sustain the good of pain care as both a therapeutic and moral enterprise.