By Alexander Germanis
Pain is something that everyone experiences in life. In fact, the sensation of pain is a vital warning sign that something in our body isn’t right. Unfortunately, it has become a somewhat accepted belief that both the duration and often the degree of pain increases as we get older. Arthritic joints, easily broken osteoporotic bones, and vertebral fractures all contribute to this rather undisputed expectation.
As leaders in pain control, research, education, and advocacy, the doctors, nurses, and staff at Millennium Pain Center not only understand the pain people experience, they want everybody to understand they do not need to live with pain — old age or not.
Dr. Ramsin Benyamin, founder of Millennium Pain Center, will be the first to admit that modern medicine, with all its advances and amazing leaps forward, is still not replete with actual cures for the most common medical problems that ail mankind. “But we have many tools that enable us to manage those conditions so we have better quality of life and can be more functional,” he says. “And that’s the key.”
Improving overall quality of life often means managing the pain associated with things like arthritis, spinal injuries, and migraines. “Comprehensive pain management is addressing and managing pain from head to toe, with or without a needle,” Dr. Benyamin explains simply. This includes treating degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, and performing procedures such as radiofrequency, neuroablation, and joint injections.
Being leaders in pain control means not only offering the most advanced treatments but also staying on the leading edge of medical research — both in basic science and advanced science. Within Millennium Pain Center’s new facility in Bloomington, which houses their laboratories as well as their pain clinic, research continues to be overseen by Dr. Ricardo Vallejo.
“Because we are leaders in not only pain control and offer the most advanced treatment,” Dr. Vallejo says, “we are also the leaders in research, and as a result we offer an opportunity for patients to participate and benefit from the latest research and treatments that are not available yet to the general public.”
These treatments are available through clinical research trials, something most people associate with much bigger cities. “So, this is very unique that in Bloomington we’re doing the same clinical trials that are happening in Chicago, New York, and L.A.,” the doctor continues.
Involved in over 120 of these trials over the past 14 years, Millennium did original research and was part of the clinical trials on many medications and medical devices that are now FDA approved and used by millions. “The clinical part is meant to prove the efficacy of these treatments,” Dr. Vallejo says.
Millennium also does benchmark research, otherwise known as basic science research. One such study is on the efficacy of a new type of radiofrequency treatment on osteoarthritis of the knee.
Dr. Vallejo explains how Millennium is on the forefront of regenerative medicine, too. “We’ve been involved in stem cell research for disc disease for many years. This is another international study involving only 35 centers in the world,” he says. “Stem cells and regenerative medicine are things we want to offer here, and Dr. Benyamin just got certified in regenerative medicine.”
Education and publication
If knowledge is power, it is a power Millennium Pain Center is trying to share with both current doctors and aspiring medical professionals alike. They are, indeed, doctors who teach other doctors.
Educating doctors is more than just sitting on the editorial boards of several peer-reviewed journals and writing over 150 articles and 25 book chapters in their fields of expertise. Drs. Benyamin and Vallejo go directly back to the classroom, as it were. “we teach interventional procedures to other physicians nationally and internationally. We also do cadaver courses to teach them how to do particular pain treatments, such as vertebral augmentation or spinal cord stimulation, and we’re invited lecturers at 12 to 16 scientific conferences per year.”
The doctors not only teach, they also examine other doctors so they can become board-certified pain physicians. Dr. Benyamin has also recently become an examiner for the Regenerative Medicine certification exam of American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians.
Pushing modern medicine forward involves more than just educating other doctors and PhDs, however. Millennium’s Director of Clinical Services, Donny Bounds, RN, describes Millennium educating on a community platform. “We go to independent living communities and give lectures on pain and osteoporosis in the elderly population. We also attend health fairs and educate the general public about treatment of pain.”
“We partner with Advocate BroMenn graduate medical education program, Heartland Community College nursing program, Mennonite College of Nursing at ISU, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine,” he continues. “So we educate the medical assistant, nursing assistant, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, physician — we educate from the community to the professional level and every level of profession there is.”
Education continues at Millennium Pain Center proper as well. Within their walls, several pre-med and medical students who attend colleges all over the country are currently improving their educations. “Our research provides opportunities for students to get exposed to not only the scientific part of medicine but also the clinical part,” Dr. Benyamin says. “It’s a very unique opportunity for these students to not be in just a pure academic environment, but also to have the experience of how patient care is performed. They shadow in the lab to learn the basic science and shadow the physicians to learn the clinical side.”
Several of these students also have the opportunity to participate in the research projects and publications produced at Millennium — work that will inevitably help in their future careers.
“This is all volunteer work,” Dr. Benyamin puts in. “We all volunteer our time to help bring this education to the community and other medical professionals.”
It is no surprise the grander medical realm is one full of bureaucracy and regulations — a world most patients are powerless to navigate or even make sense of on their own. As Dr. Benyamin points out, having insurance and having access to care are two very different things. “We see this very commonly now,” he says. “Even though patients might have insurance, their insurance denies or doesn’t provide coverage for many treatments or medications.” So, for the patients’ welfare, part of Millennium’s mission is to advocate for them on local, state, and federal levels.
“The main purpose is to ensure patients have access to pain management,” Donny Bounds says. “So, we work with government officials on creating policy, we work with insurance companies and medical directors of insurance companies to advocate for the patients.”
Advocacy can range from visiting Capitol Hill to petitioning Medicare to making peer-to-peer phone calls or writing letters on a patient’s behalf to explain why a patient needs a certain degree of care or a procedure.
Through their advocacy, Drs. Benyamin and Vallejo have successfully petitioned and proven the efficacy of a non-surgical treatment for spinal stenosis called MILD (minimally invasive lumbar decompression). Currently, Millennium is the only center in Illinois approved by Medicare to perform this procedure.
The growth of pain care
As the medicine of pain management has evolved, so has Millennium Pain Center. Growing from Dr. Benyamin and a single staff member to a staff of 49 in seven locations in Illinois and three in Spain, Millennium has always been built on removing or reducing the pain of their patients.
Donny Bounds sums up Millennium’s belief — one they want everyone to understand: “We hear people come in and say, ‘I’m old, so I’m supposed to have pain.’ They think pain is a normal part of the aging process, but it is not. Pain is a message from the body saying something is wrong. We can’t always eliminate all of it,” he says, “but if we can diagnose the source of it, we can treat it. You don’t have to live with pain.”
Millennium Pain Center has a new location at 2406 E. Empire St. in Bloomington. You may contact them at 309-662-4321 or www.millenniumpaincenter.com. Open House on October 20, 2017.
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