Acupuncture and standard emergency department care for pain and/or nausea and its impact on emergency care delivery: a feasibility study

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Abstract

Objective

To evaluate the feasibility of delivering acupuncture in an emergency department (ED) to patients presenting with pain and/or nausea.

Methods

A feasibility study (with historical controls) undertaken at the Northern Hospital ED in Melbourne, Australia, involving people presenting to ED triage with pain (VAS 0-10) and/or nausea (Morrow Index 1-6) between January and August 2010 (n=400). The acupuncture group comprised 200 patients who received usual medical care and acupuncture; the usual care group comprised 200 patients with retrospective data closely matched from ED electronic health records.

Results

Refusal rate was 31%, with ‘symptoms under control owing to medical treatment before acupuncture’ the most prevalent reason for refusal (n=36); 52.5% of participants responded ‘definitely yes’ for their willingness to repeat acupuncture, and a further 31.8% responded ‘probably yes’. Over half (57%) reported a satisfaction score of 10 for acupuncture treatment. Musculoskeletal conditions were the most common conditions treated n=117 (58.5%), followed by abdominal or flank pain n=49 (24.5%). Adverse events were rare (2%) and mild. Pain and nausea scores reduced from a mean±SD of 7.01±2.02 before acupuncture to 4.72±2.62 after acupuncture and from 2.6±2.19 to 1.42±1.86, respectively.

Conclusions

Acupuncture in the ED appears safe and acceptable for patients with pain and/or nausea. Results suggest combined care may provide effective pain and nausea relief in ED patients. Further high-quality, sufficiently powered randomised studies evaluating the cost-effectiveness and efficacy of the add-on effect of acupuncture are recommended.

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