Objectives: Symptom management is increasingly recognized as a critical element of patient care, particularly in managing chronic illness. However, research on outcomes related to symptom management is in its infancy, except for the symptom of pain. This symptom was therefore chosen as a prototype to review the state of the science regarding relations between organizational variables and symptom management outcomes and to illustrate the issues regardless of the symptom managed. This article discusses pain outcome measures appropriate for acute and cancer pain, proposes attributes of the care delivery system that may affect outcome measures, and identifies challenges associated with this type of research.
Methods: Review of quality assurance studies raises issues concerning the adequacy of currently used outcomes for pain and satisfaction with pain management. Although considerable effort has been expended in developing pain measurement in adults and children, critical issues for examining pain management outcomes include deciding what perspectives should be used as the most valid indicator of the pain outcome and when the measures should be obtained.
Results: Critical concerns are raised about the measure of satisfaction with pain management and its appropriateness as the end-result outcome. A key issue is whether respondents actually disentangle satisfaction with pain management from satisfaction with other aspects of care, including caring dispositions of health-care providers. Finally, the question is raised: Are pain outcomes affected by organizational context?
Conclusions: Although the answer to this question is unknown, a few research studies suggest that organizational context is likely to influence pain outcomes. It is clear, however, from ongoing work that until several conceptual, methodological, and analytic challenges are resolved, research is unlikely to capture the influence of variations in care delivery systems on symptom management outcomes.