JOURNAL ARTICLE

Older US emergency department patients are less likely to receive pain medication than younger patients: results from a national survey

Timothy F Platts-Mills, Denise A Esserman, D Levin Brown, Andrey V Bortsov, Philip D Sloane, Samuel A McLean
Annals of Emergency Medicine 2012, 60 (2): 199-206
22032803

STUDY OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study is to determine whether older adults presenting to the emergency department (ED) with pain are less likely to receive pain medication than younger adults.

METHODS: Pain-related visits to US EDs were identified with reason-for-visit codes from 7 years (2003 to 2009) of the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The primary outcome was the administration of an analgesic. The percentage of patients receiving analgesics in 4 age groups was adjusted for measured covariates, including pain severity.

RESULTS: Pain-related visits accounted for 88,031 (46.9%) ED visits by patients aged 18 years or older during the 7-year period. There were 7,585 pain-related ED visits by patients aged 75 years or older, representing an estimated 3.65 million US ED visits annually. In comparing survey-weighted unadjusted estimates, pain-related visits by patients aged 75 years or older were less likely than visits by patients aged 35 to 54 years to result in administration of an analgesic (49% versus 68.3%) or an opioid (34.8% versus 49.3%). Absolute differences in rates of analgesic and opioid administration persisted after adjustment for sex, race/ethnicity, pain severity, and other factors and multiple imputation of missing pain severity data, with visits by patients aged 75 years and older being 19.6% (95% confidence interval 17.8% to 21.4%) less likely than visits by patients aged 35 to 54 years to receive an analgesic and 14.6% (95% confidence interval 12.8% to 16.4%) less likely to receive an opioid.

CONCLUSION: Patients aged 75 years and older with pain-related ED visits are less likely to receive pain medication than patients aged 35 to 54 years.

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