To be in pain (or not): a computer enables outpatients to inform their physician

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Abstract

Background

In the outpatient oncology clinic, pain management is often inadequate. Incorporating a systematic pain management program into visits is likely to improve this. We implemented an integrated program, including a structured pain assessment, pain treatment protocol and patient education module. In the present study, we investigated whether this intervention improved pain control.

Patients and methods

At seven oncology outpatient clinics, patients were asked to register their pain intensity on a touch screen computer. These scores were made available into their electronic medical records. Additionally, a hospital-wide treatment protocol for cancer-related pain and a patient education module were developed. A data warehouse system enabled us to extract patient data from the electronic medical record anonymously and to use them for analysis. The primary outcome of the study was the percentage of patients with moderate to severe pain [current pain (CPI), NRS > 4] measured during 2 weeks at the start and 6 months after implementation. As secondary outcomes, we studied the percentage of pain registrations in specific patient groups and the percentage of patients treated with a curative and a palliative intention with (moderate–severe) pain. Differences were tested with the χ2 test.

Results

During the first 6 months, 3407 of the 4345 patients (78%) registered their pain intensity on the touch screen computer. The percentage of patients with moderate to severe CPI decreased 32% (P = 0.021): from 12.5% at start to 8.5% after 6 months. More patients in the palliative phase than in the curative phase of their disease registered their pain intensity (82% versus 75%, respectively, P < 0.005), and more patients in the palliative phase experienced moderate to severe pain (23% versus 14%, respectively, P < 0.001).

Conclusion

Pain registration by patients themselves is feasible, provides insight into patients' pain intensity and may improve pain control in outpatients with cancer-related pain.

Clinical trial number

Because this is an innovation project and not a primary research project, it has no clinical trial number. The protocol and all materials involved were approved by the Institutional Review Board of the Erasmus MC (MEC-2009-324).

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