Persistent pain in neonates: challenges in assessment without the aid of a clinical tool

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Abstract

Aim:

Evaluation of comfort and pain in neonates is important for management. Specific signs of persistent pain in neonates remain undefined; few validated clinical tools assess persistent pain. We sought to determine (i) difficulty perceived by staff and parents in assessing comfort/persistent pain in babies, (ii) strategies employed when no clinical tool is used and (iii) variation between clinicians’ assessments.

Methods:

Parent and staff questionnaires addressed difficulty in assessing pain/comfort in neonates and strategies used in making assessments.

Results:

A total of 47 of 50 (94%) parents and 83 of 91 (91%) staff participated; 50% of staff reported it was moderately/very difficult to assess persistent pain, and 13% very easy; 75% of parents found it moderately/very easy and 23% difficult to assess their baby's comfort; 15% of parents thought staff found pain assessment difficult. Staff described 94 different factors indicative of comfort and 139 factors of persistent pain. Terminology differed widely and was often nonspecific; 67% of staff described forming a ‘general impression’.

Conclusion:

Pain assessment is challenging for staff. Most parents feel confident in assessing their babies’ comfort, but may overestimate the ease with which staff can do so. Indicators of persistent pain/comfort are poorly defined; staff use differing, subjective assessments, which may complicate communication between carers.

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