How I Discovered an Underused Therapy for Chronic Pain—And Why It’s Not More Widely Available

You might wonder why there aren’t more effective ways of treating chronic pain. If you or someone you love suffers from a chronic condition, you may despair. Surely, with all the money dedicated to treating every existing disease, it must be possible to develop effective therapies for chronic pain?

Unfortunately, there are several reasons both why chronic pain is often overlooked and why those therapies which are developed don’t reach a wider audience. Let me give you some background.

In 2011, I was working as director of sales and marketing for a medical device company in the wellness, prevention, and anti-aging industry—our main product was a diagnostic to measure oxidative stress, more commonly known as free-radical damage. I had helped the company put the “go-to-market” strategy together, launch, and build the initial sales channels.

The earliest adopters of this technology were chiropractors, who were usually comfortable with both cash-model and instrument-oriented therapies. The marketing of the technology also put me in contact with progressively thinking MDs, naturopaths, and many other clinicians. I traveled the world representing the technology at regional conferences and large events like Wright/Gaby, American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), and MEDICA, one of the largest medical device conferences in the world, which was held in Düsseldorf, Germany.

It was during this time that I became aware of a technology known in the FDA paperwork and the medical literature as Scrambler Therapy (ST). Scrambler Therapy was purported to be a new and novel way to treat chronic pain by retraining the brain, noninvasively and without drugs, needles, surgery, or side effects. ST technology was, at this time, being marketed traditionally, as most medical devices are, model that involved selling the device to clinicians. Through a family contact that had secured the rights to the ST market in the western US, I was able to create a sub-dealer opportunity under them to sell and market the device.

Why Clinicians Are Often Resistant to New Therapies

When I started marketing ST to clinicians, I saw great potential in it, both as a way to address chronic pain and as a business opportunity. Believing that a noninvasive, nonpharmacological solution to chronic pain could be a game changer, I began to devote time, energy, resources, and money into efforts to market the therapy. I called on doctors, mostly MDs and DOs. I booked exhibitor booths and attended pain conferences. I contacted my network of medical contacts.

The common response, however, was a mix of amused curiosity, a look of incredulity, or outright dismissal. Rightly, the medical professionals I spoke with wanted to know things that I and the company couldn’t fully or accurately answer.

Most physicians were taught something called the Gate Control Theory of pain, which was published in the 1960s—old science (more on that later in the chapter). They wanted to know exactly how ST worked and how it differed from other electrical stimulation technologies such as TENS, micro-current, or other electrical stimulation therapies. They wanted to understand its mechanism of action and the exact electrical neuromodulation output it generated.

Further, they wanted studies of its efficacy, and the limited pilot studies that had been completed at the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University were not sufficient for their needs. They wanted double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with longitudinal outcomes for fifteen years. They wanted published peer-reviewed journal articles. At times, it seemed like they wanted blood.

I knew I had a good product. My own experience and the pilot studies from the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins told me that much. What I didn’t know was how to successfully market that product in a clinical context. I felt as though I had trespassed in holy lands, blasphemed a medical deity, and insulted the doctors’ intelligence. Frequently I was told directly, or implicitly, that I was wasting their time (and mine) with “snake oil,” that this was nothing new and likely nothing novel or effective at creating a lasting result. Repeatedly, I heard things like “No way can you create lasting relief without some sort of drug intervention,” and other, similar comments.

Occasionally, however, I had a positive, engaged, and optimistic dialogue with a clinician, in which they expressed genuine inquisitiveness. A few times, they asked me to schedule a next-step dialogue, or to book a “demo” of the technology. When this occasion presented itself, which was not often, it was cause for excitement. My colleagues from the distributorship would fly in to participate, providing a slightly deeper level of understanding and more discussion points. Together, we ran a day or two of no-cost demo treatments for the patients of the interested doctor. Almost universally, patients treated in these no-cost demos saw relief, sometimes substantial or even total relief.

So far, so good. Many times, the doctors were impressed with the results they saw—although they seemed a bit disbelieving about ST’s mechanisms of action. Unfortunately, far more often than not, their interest died when we started talking about the process, price, and economics of buying the technology. Because of the high price point of the technology and lack of insurance reimbursement, coupled with limited understanding of how it worked mechanically or in the body (by both the medical community and the company selling the technology) we sold very few devices.

These are the hurdles a new, unproven technology faces to gain acceptance within the medical establishment.

The few places did purchase a device all began using in in their “own way”. This variability in use, in client experience, in price and clinical environment not only produced varied clinical results, it erodes all brand integrity. There is no way you can build and scale a brand strong enough, which is necessary to shift thinking and understand and to scale growth, with that type of experiential, financial and outcome variability.

Clearly, we had to find a new model.

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