Health Break | Published January 23, 2006 | Written by Allison Lee Snyder, RN

Patient Pain Gets More Attention

Pain is one of the most common reasons that patients seek medical care. After an injury or surgery, you expect to hurt for a while, knowing that in time, you will heal and the pain will leave. If you have a medical condition—from arthritis to heart disease to cancer—you recognize discomfort as a symptom and trust that treatment will help. While you wait for your body to heal, pain medication can provide some relief.

Healthcare standards

The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), which sets healthcare standards for about 80 percent of the nation’s hospitals, set a new standard last year to determine how well hospitals assess and treat pain.

Pain management is a crucial component of quality care. When patients’ pain is controlled, they will have reduced anxiety, and they will be able to improve faster physically, promoting their independence.

Addressing patients’ pain

Pain can be a common part of a patient’s experience while in the hospital. But, did you know that patients have a right to the appropriate assessment and management of pain? Patients themselves are the best judges of their own pain. When a patient reports pain, several factors will be taken into consideration:

  • Pain intensity (for example: 1-10 rating)

  • Description of the pain (for example: dull, sharp, aching, burning, pressure or radiating)

  • When the pain started and how long it lasts

  • Alleviating or aggravating factors

  • What is currently being done to treat the pain and how effective it is

  • The patient’s pain goal

  • Assessment of the pain by healthcare personnel who examine the site of the pain

Doctors and nursing staff use different measuring systems to assess pain. Often, a scale of 1-10 is used for patients to rate the severity of the pain they are feeling; one is counted as no pain and ten is the worst pain imaginable. “Happy face/sad face” scales are often used for the pediatric population or for patients who have difficulty communicating. Another scale, termed the FLACC scale, is used for patients who are cognitively disabled, as well as infants and preverbal children. For instance, a patient who is on a ventilator is assessed for pain by looking at facial and verbal cues, emotions, movements and positioning.

Once patients are medicated for pain, they will be asked to rate their pain again to measure the effectiveness of the medication. Reassessing pain is extremely important for a patient’s comfort. Meeting patients’ pain goals is critical to their care.

Using strong painkillers

There has been a negative connotation associated with strong painkillers: patients may mistakenly fear that taking pain medication such as morphine and other opiates to control their pain may result in addiction. According to a study published last April in The Journal of the American Medical Association, an increased use of morphine for pain control during the past decade did not cause increased drug abuse or addiction.

Take back your life

Pain afflicts nearly 86 million Americans every year. Over time, physical pain takes an emotional toll, making the body hurt even more. Sometimes, pain may not be alleviated with typical pain-control agents. For instance, you may have tried physical therapy, steroid therapy and pain medications, but you are still in pain. Some patients have accepted pain as a way of life, but it does not have to be that way. Seeing a pain specialist may help. Mount Nittany Medical Center has a pain management clinic that is used on an outpatient basis. For more information about this pain clinic, please call (814) 237-3360.

Allison Lee Snyder, RN, is a performance improvement nurse at Mount Nittany Medical Center.