Pain assessment tool in the critically ill post-open heart surgery patient population

Liza Marmo, Susan Fowler
Pain Management Nursing: Official Journal of the American Society of Pain Management Nurses 2010, 11 (3): 134-40
Critical-care patients are at higher risk for untreated pain, because they are often unable to communicate owing to altered mental status, mechanical ventilation, and sedation. Pain that is persistent and untreated affects most body systems and results in development of complications chronic pain, and increased length of stay. This descriptive repeated-measures study compared three pain assessment tools in nonverbal critically ill patients in a cardiac postanesthesia care unit (n=24). Tools included the Critical-Care Pain Observation Tool (CPOT), adult Nonverbal Pain Scale (NVPS), and the Faces, Legs, Activity, Cry, and Consolability scale (FLACC). Two painful events, suctioning and repositioning, were studied. Data were collected immediately before the event, 1 minute after, and 20 minutes after. Both the CPOT and the NVPS demonstrated high reliability (Cronbach alpha coefficients 0.89). The NVPS and the CPOT were highly correlated for both raters (r>0.80, p=.00) (11 out of 12 times). Correlations between the two raters was generally moderate to high, but higher with the CPOT. There was more disagreement between raters in overall pain scores for the NVPS. When raters disagreed, it was most often in rating the face component on both scales. Disagreement was highest during the event. Both scales adequately capture pain in the nonverbal sedated critically ill patient based on assessment of patients' face, body movements, muscle tension, and respirations, with the NVPS also considering vital signs. Pictures depicting facial expressions for scoring purposes are helpful. Adequate education and understanding of use of the scales is critical for accurate assessment and subsequent interventions.

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