Objective: To develop quality improvement (QI) guidelines and programs to improve treatment outcomes for patients with acute pain and cancer pain.
Participants: Twenty-four members of the American Pain Society (APS) participated in preparing the statement, including 15 nurses (oncology, general medical-surgical nursing, pediatrics, and QI research), seven physicians (clinical pharmacology, neurology, anesthesiology, radiation oncology, and physiatry), one psychologist, and one statistician. Participants were self-selected from the 3000 members of the APS, which supported the process and held annual open committee meetings and scientific symposia beginning in 1988.
Evidence: MEDLINE was searched (1980 to 1995) to identify all articles on pain assessment, treatment of acute pain or cancer pain, and QI or education related to pain.
Consensus process: Following panel discussions, one member (M.B.M.) prepared successive drafts and circulated them to the panel and APS membership for comments. After publication of a prototype version in 1991, 14 panelists carried out formal studies of implementation of the guidelines at three medical centers. This article was prepared based on this research, a new literature review, and suggestions from 50 pain clinicians and researchers.
Conclusions: Quality improvement programs to improve treatment of acute pain and cancer pain should include five key elements: (1) Assuring that a report of unrelieved pain raises a "red flag" that attracts clinicians' attention; (2) making information about analgesics convenient where orders are written; (3) promising patients responsive analgesic care and urging them to communicate pain; (4) implementing policies and safeguards for the use of modern analgesic technologies; and (5) coordinating and assessing implementation of these measures. Several short-term studies suggest that this QI approach may improve patient satisfaction and facilitate recognition of institutional obstacles to optimal pain treatment, but it is not a panacea for undertreated pain. By making the magnitude of the problem apparent and committing the institution to change, pain treatment QI programs can provide a foundation for a multifaceted approach that includes education of clinicians and patients, design of informational tools to minimize errors in prescribing, and improved coordination of the process of assessing and treating pain.