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Analgesia in the emergency department: why is it not administered?

Abstract

Objective Pain management in the ED is often suboptimal, with many patients not receiving analgesia. We aimed to determine why some patients refuse it, why others do not receive it, and whether these variables impact on patient satisfaction with their pain management.

Methods We undertook a prospective, observational study in a large, Australian, tertiary referral ED (February–May 2017). A convenience sample of consecutive adult patients with a triage pain score of ≥4 were examined. Data were collected from the medical record and the treating nurses. At follow-up at least 48 hours postdischarge, patients were asked if they received analgesia in the ED (if not, then why not) and how satisfied they were with their pain management (very dissatisfied/dissatisfied/slightly dissatisfied/slightly satisfied/satisfied/very satisfied). The primary outcome was why patients refuse analgesia.

Results Of the 651 enrolled patients, 171 (26.3%) did not receive analgesia; for 30 (17.5%), patients and their nurses agreed that analgesia was refused. Patients mainly refused analgesia because their pain was not bad enough, they had recent analgesia intake, and concerns about side effects and interactions. Patients who received analgesia were more likely to be ‘very satisfied’ with their pain management (difference in proportions 10.8%, 95% CI 2.1 to 19.4). The satisfaction of patients who refused analgesia and those who did not receive analgesia for other reasons did not differ.

Conclusion Patient refusal is the most common reason for patients not receiving analgesia. Analgesia receipt is associated with greater patient satisfaction. However, a patient’s knowledge of their analgesia receipt status may be incorrect. Disregard of the reasons for patients not receiving analgesia may underestimate the number offered analgesia.

  • emergency department
  • analgesia/pain control
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