Introduction Pain management in emergency departments (ED) is often inadequate despite the availability of effective analgesia, with many patients receiving insufficient and untimely analgesia. We conducted a systematic literature review to identify interventions that could improve pain management in the ED.
Methods We systematically searched seven databases for studies reporting pain management outcomes after intervention to change professional practice to improve pain management in the ED, compared with pain management before or without intervention. Data was synthesised using principles of narrative synthesis.
Results We identified 43 relevant studies, including 40 uncontrolled before-and-after studies. Interventions included implementation of guidelines and protocols, educational interventions, pain scoring tools and changes in nursing roles, with many multifaceted interventions incorporating two or more of these elements. Interventions aimed to improve assessment and documentation of pain, knowledge and awareness of pain management and reduce time to analgesia. Due to the high probability of bias in study design and significant variation between studies, it was not possible to estimate the overall effectiveness of interventions, or identify which had the greatest impact. Intervention to improve pain management was reported to have some positive impact in most studies, but these findings may be explained by limitations in study design.
Conclusions Many interventions reported improvements in pain management, but current evidence is insufficient to recommend any for widespread adoption. In order to improve pain management we need to understand more about the theory underlying interventions, the context in which interventions work, and develop interventions based on this stronger theoretical understanding.
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