Background: The introduction of acute pain teams (APTs) in every hospital performing surgery in the UK has been recommended in order to reduce postoperative pain. However, recent evidence suggests that many APTs are under-resourced. Purchasers may be more prepared to invest in these services if they are persuaded that they result in measurable improvements in patient outcomes.
Aim: A systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis were performed to determine the effectiveness of APTs in improving the quality of analgesia and other postoperative outcomes of adult patients undergoing surgery.
Methods: A broad search strategy using the terms 'pain team' and 'pain service' was adapted for a variety of databases. Key journals were hand-searched and reference lists of selected reports were reviewed. Subject experts and study authors were contacted. Studies describing the impact of the APT/acute pain service (APS) on postoperative pain relief, other postoperative outcomes or the processes of postoperative pain were included. Study quality was assessed using a multidimensional instrument. A broad qualitative overview of the included studies was conducted. Continuous outcome data for pain in the first 24 hours postoperatively (in one case worst pain at 24-48 hours) were pooled.
Results: Fifteen studies were included in the review. There were considerable differences in study design and quality, the nature of the APT and the outcomes measured. Of the nine studies measuring pain, it was possible to present data as Standardized Mean Differences for only four studies. Quantitative synthesis indicates a statistically significant overall estimate of effect using a fixed effects model only.
Limitations: Only published studies in English were included. Study inclusion decisions and data extraction were performed by one reviewer only.
Conclusion: There is insufficient robust research to assess the impact of APTs on postoperative outcomes of adult patients or on the processes of postoperative pain relief.