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Corporatization of Pain Medicine: Implications for Widening Pain Care Disparities


  • Salimah H. Meghani PhD, MBE, CRNP

    1. Biobehavioral & Health Science Division, New Courtland Center for Transitions & Health, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing; Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
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Salimah H. Meghani, PhD, MBE, CRNP, Claire M. Fagin Hall, 418 Curie Boulevard, Room 337, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4217, USA. Tel: 215-573-7128; Fax: 215-573-7507; E-mail:


The current health care system in the United States is structured in a way that ensures that more opportunity and resources flow to the wealthy and socially advantaged. The values intrinsic to the current profit-oriented culture are directly antithetical to the idea of equitable access. A large body of literature points to disparities in pain treatment and pain outcomes among vulnerable groups. These disparities range from the presence of disproportionately higher numbers and magnitude of risk factors for developing disabling pain, lack of access to primary care providers, analgesics and interventions, lack of referral to pain specialists, longer wait times to receive care, receipt of poor quality of pain care, and lack of geographical access to pharmacies that carry opioids. This article examines the manner in which the profit-oriented culture in medicine has directly and indirectly structured access to pain care, thereby widening pain treatment disparities among vulnerable groups. Specifically, the author argues that the corporatization of pain medicine amplifies disparities in pain outcomes in two ways: 1) directly through driving up the cost of pain care, rendering it inaccessible to the financially vulnerable; and 2) indirectly through an interface with corporate loss-aversion/risk management culture that draws upon irrelevant social characteristics, thus worsening disparities for certain populations. Thus, while financial vulnerability is the core reason for lack of access, it does not fully explain the implications of corporate microculture regarding access. The effect of corporatization on pain medicine must be conceptualized in terms of overt access to facilities, providers, pharmaceuticals, specialty services, and interventions, but also in terms of the indirect or covert effect of corporate culture in shaping clinical interactions and outcomes.