Judging pain and disability: effects of pain severity and physician specialty.

Research paper by Raymond C RC Tait, John T JT Chibnall, Laura L Miller, Chas A CA Werner

Indexed on: 17 Nov '10Published on: 17 Nov '10Published in: Journal of Behavioral Medicine


While considerable evidence indicates that the assessment of pain is an exercise in social cognition, provider contributions to pain assessment have received little attention. This study compared internist versus neurosurgeon ratings of pain and pain-related disability for hypothetical patients reporting either low or high levels of low back pain. Using practice characteristics as covariates, a multivariate analysis of covariance showed that both physician groups rated pain severity, but not measures of disability, as significantly lower for the low pain severity condition. Relative to internists, neurosurgeons rated both pain severity and pain-related disability as significantly lower, regardless of patient-reported pain severity. There were no interactions between physician specialty and patient-reported pain severity. Practice characteristics accounted for relatively little variance in ratings. Results are discussed in terms of differences in comparison levels for the physician groups, as well as implications for clinical practice and disability determination systems.