Background: Pain associated with routine procedures in NICUs is often inadequately managed. Barriers to more appropriate pain management are nurses' and physicians' knowledge and the challenges of collaborative decision-making. Few studies describe the differing perceptions of procedural pain intensity among nurses and physicians in NICUs which could complicate common decision-making. This study set out to explore the factors influencing pain intensity assessment and to gain insight into a possible pain intensity classification of routine procedures in the NICU.
Method: A survey was conducted among 431 neonatal health care professionals from 4 tertiary level NICUs. Each routine procedure was assessed on a 10-point visual analogue scale (VAS) assuming absence of analgesia.
Results: Multiple ANCOVA models showed that nurses rated 19 of the 27 procedures as significantly more painful than did physicians (p<0.05). We found no differences in pain assessment based on professional experience, gender or age. Of the 27 procedures listed, 70% were rated as painful and 44% were judged very painful. Ranking and classification of the pain intensity of routine procedures were drawn up. The general ranking of the median across all procedures shows that "insertion of a thoracic drain" is assessed as the most painful procedure.
Conclusions: The majority of routine procedures in an NICU are considered to be painful. Nurses generally rate procedures as more painful than do physicians. This difference in assessment deserves exploration in regard to its impact on collaborative decision-making in neonate pain management.