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Keywords:

  • adverse events;
  • epidemiology and detection;
  • nursing;
  • pain;
  • pain assessment;
  • patient safety;
  • quality improvement

Abstract

Aim

To determine the extent of clinically significant pain suffered by hospitalized patients during their stay and at discharge.

Background

The management of pain in hospitals continues to be problematic, despite long-standing awareness of the problem and improvements, e.g. acute pain teams and patient-controlled analgesia, epidural analgesia. Poorly managed pain, especially acute pain, often leads to adverse physical and psychological outcomes including persistent pain and disability. A systems approach may improve the management of pain in hospitals.

Design

A descriptive cross-sectional exploratory design.

Method

A large electronic pain score database of vital signs and pain scores was interrogated between 1st January 2010 and 31st December 2010 to establish the proportion of hospital inpatient stays with clinically significant pain during the hospital stay and at discharge.

Findings

A total of 810,774 pain scores were analysed, representing 38,451 patient stays. Clinically significant pain was present in 38·4% of patient stays. Across surgical categories, 54·0% of emergency admissions experienced clinically significant pain, compared with 48·0% of elective admissions. Medical areas had a summary figure of 26·5%. For 30% patients, clinically significant pain was followed by a consecutive clinically significant pain score. Only 0·2% of pain assessments were made independently of vital signs.

Conclusion

Reducing the risk of long-term persistent pain should be seen as integral to improving patient safety and can be achieved by harnessing organizational pain management processes with quality improvement initiatives. The assessment of pain alongside vital signs should be reviewed. Setting quality targets for pain are essential for improving the patient's experience.