Triage pain scores and the desire for and use of analgesics

Ann Emerg Med. 2008 Dec;52(6):689-95. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2008.04.017. Epub 2008 May 23.


Study objective: Inadequate analgesia (oligoanalgesia) is a common phenomenon. In an effort to improve pain recognition and management, pain scores are mandated by The Joint Commission. When patients with pain do not receive analgesics, treatment is considered deficient. However, the mere presence of pain does not imply that all patients desire analgesics. We determine how often patients in pain desire and receive analgesics in the emergency department (ED). We hypothesize that many ED patients in pain do not desire analgesics and that most who want them receive them.

Methods: We conducted a prospective observational study of pain-related visits to an academic ED during the spring of 2007. Standardized collection of demographic and clinical data was performed, and patients rated their pain severity on a 0 to 10 numeric rating scale. The main outcome measures were the desire for and administration of analgesics during the ED visit. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with patient desire for and administration of analgesics.

Results: We enrolled 392 patients. Mean (SD) age was 39 years (19), 50% were female patients, 76% were white. Mean (SD) initial pain score was 7.1 (2). Of the 392 patients, 199 (51% [95% confidence interval (CI) 46% to 56%]) desired analgesics and 227 (58% [95% CI 53% to 63%]) received analgesics within 92 (SD 106) minutes. Of patients desiring analgesics, 162 (81% [95% CI 75% to 86%]) received them. Reasons for not wanting analgesics included pain tolerable (47%), analgesic taken at home (11%), and wanting to remain alert (7%). Pain scores were higher in those patients who wanted analgesics than in those patients who did not want analgesics (7.8 [95% CI 7.5 to 8.1] versus 6.4 [95% CI 6.1 to 6.7]; difference 1.4 [95% CI 0.9 to 1.8]). In multivariate analysis, pain scores (odds ratio [OR] 1.3 for every 1-point increase in pain score) and constant pain (OR 2.0) were significant factors that predicted wanting analgesics, whereas pain scores (OR 1.2) and desiring analgesics (OR 7.4) were significant predictors of receiving analgesics.

Conclusion: Nearly half of all ED patients in pain do not desire analgesics and most who desire analgesics receive them. Although the average pain score for patients not wanting analgesics was lower, it was often in the moderate to severe range. Patients should be asked whether they have pain and whether they want analgesics regardless of their pain scores.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / classification*
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Triage*


  • Analgesics