Does Routine Pain Assessment Result in Better Care?
BACKGROUND: Although a variety of national organizations such as the Canadian Pain Society, the American Pain Society and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations have advanced the idea that pain should be assessed on a routine basis, there is little evidence that systematic pain assessment information is used routinely by clinicians even when it is readily available.OBJECTIVE: To determine whether systematic pain assessment information alters medical practitioners’ clinical practices.METHODS: A population of seniors with complex medical problems who were evaluated by case coordinators was studied. Case coordinators were assigned to either an experimental or control patient assessment condition. Control condition patients were assessed as usual. In the experimental condition, a psychometrically valid pain assessment battery as well as the Geriatric Depression Scale – Short Form (because depression and chronic pain are frequently comorbid) were integrated into the routine case coordination assessment. A summary of the results of the depression and pain assessments was subsequently sent to physicians via mail and fax. Patients were also given copies of the assessment summaries and were asked to discuss these with their physicians. Physicians’ medication prescriptions were monitored over time through the database of the provincial ministry of health.RESULTS: At the end of the study, no significant differences between experimental and control patients were found with respect to medications prescribed or patient self-reports of pain. Nonetheless, there was a significant relationship between Geriatric Depression Scale – Short Form scores and pain medications prescribed for patients in the experimental condition. Moreover, indexes of overall pain intensity did not change significantly over time.CONCLUSIONS: The findings do not support the idea that the availability of systematic pain assessment information leads to change in clinician’s medication practices. As such, educational interventions and public policy initiatives are needed to ensure that treatment providers do not only gather but also use pain assessment information.