Nurse-initiated intravenous morphine in the emergency department: efficacy, rate of adverse events and impact on time to analgesia

Margaret Fry, Anna Holdgate
Emergency Medicine 2002, 14 (3): 249-54

OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study were: (i) to measure the analgesic efficacy and frequency of adverse events following autonomous nurse-initiated intravenous morphine in patients presenting with acute pain, awaiting medical assessment; and (ii) to determine whether such a process would improve the time to analgesia.

METHODS: A prospective convenience sample of patients presenting in acute pain received titrated intravenous morphine by experienced emergency nurses. Pain scores on a 10.0 cm visual analogue scale and predetermined adverse events defined by physiological parameters were measured at regular intervals over the following 60 min. Demographic, diagnostic and waiting time data were also recorded.

RESULTS: Three hundred and forty nine patients were enrolled over a 12-month period. The median initial pain score was 8.5 cm, with a reduction to 4.0 cm at 1 h. Respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, heart rate and blood pressure all showed small but statistically significant reductions over 60 min. There were 15 predefined adverse events, 10 episodes of hypotension and five episodes of oxygen desaturation. No intervention other than supplemental oxygen was required. There were no episodes of bradycardia, bradypnoea or reduced level of consciousness. The median time to narcotic was 18 min and the median time to be seen by a doctor was 52 min.

CONCLUSION: Experienced emergency nurses can initiate effective intravenous narcotic analgesia for patients in acute pain awaiting medical assessment, with minimal change in physiological parameters. This process can improve the time to analgesia for patients in acute pain.

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