Objective: To develop national estimates of the epidemiology of pain in the prehospital setting.
Methods: Cross-sectional data on a probability sample of 21,103 emergency department (ED) visits from the 1999 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were analyzed. For patients arriving by ambulance, the frequencies (95% confidence intervals) of patients presenting with no level of pain reported (data unknown or missing) and those reporting no, mild, and moderate or severe pain were determined. The reasons for visit among those with moderate or severe pain, and the ED narcotic analgesic use among those with pain information reported and not reported, were also determined.
Results: Of the 102.8 million patients visiting the ED in 1999, 14.5 million arrived by ambulance. Fifty-three percent (49-58%) were female. Seven million six hundred thousand [52% (48-56%)] had no information on presenting level of pain reported, 2.0 million [14% (2-25%)] had no pain, 2.0 million [14% (3-25%)] had mild pain, and 2.9 million 120% (12-29%)] had moderate or severe pain. Among those with moderate or severe pain, the most common reasons for visit were injuries 27% (11-43%) and non-injury musculoskeletal symptoms 18% (0-39%). Narcotic analgesics were ordered or continued in 13% (0-29%) of those with no presenting level of pain recorded and 21% (9-34%) of those for whom the presenting level of pain was recorded.
Conclusion: Pain is a common condition among prehospital patients: 20% reported moderate to severe pain. Given the use of narcotic analgesics among those for whom pain information was not reported, this is likely a conservative estimate.