The newly approved Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) pain management standards present an important opportunity for widespread and sustainable improvement in pain assessment and management. Unrelieved pain is a major, yet avoidable, public health problem. Despite 20 years of work by educators, clinicians, and professional organizations and the publication of clinical practice guidelines, there have been, at best, modest improvements in pain management practices. Multiple barriers found in the health care system, and among health care professionals, patients, and families, continue to impede progress. In August 1997 a collaborative project was initiated to integrate pain assessment and management into the standards, intent statements, and examples of implementation of JCAHO--a rare opportunity to improve pain management in health care facilities throughout the country. After review by multiple JCAHO committees and advisory groups and critique by an expert panel, the JCAHO Board of Commissioners approved the revisions in May 1999. The revisions are published in the 2000-2001 standards manuals and will be effective January 1, 2001, for all patient care organizations accredited by JCAHO--ambulatory care, behavioral health, health care networks, home care, hospitals, long-term care, and long-term care pharmacies. An evaluation of the impact of the revisions is currently being completed, and education of the JCAHO surveyors and health care professionals is underway. Nurses, especially those with expertise in pain management, are valuable resources as health care organizations change their pain assessment and management processes to meet the new standards.