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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Paramedic assessment of pain in the cognitively impaired adult patient

Bill Lord

Author Affiliations

Monash University, Department of Community Emergency Health and Paramedic Practice, Building H, McMahons Road, Frankston VIC 3199, Australia

BMC Emergency Medicine 2009, 9:20  doi:10.1186/1471-227X-9-20

Published: 6 October 2009

Abstract

Background

Paramedics are often a first point of contact for people experiencing pain in the community. Wherever possible the patient's self report of pain should be sought to guide the assessment and management of this complaint. Communication difficulty or disability such as cognitive impairment associated with dementia may limit the patient's ability to report their pain experience, and this has the potential to affect the quality of care. The primary objective of this study was to systematically locate evidence relating to the use of pain assessment tools that have been validated for use with cognitively impaired adults and to identify those that have been recommended for use by paramedics.

Methods

A systematic search of health databases for evidence relating to the use of pain assessment tools that have been validated for use with cognitively impaired adults was undertaken using specific search criteria. An extended search included position statements and clinical practice guidelines developed by health agencies to identify evidence-based recommendations regarding pain assessment in older adults.

Results

Two systematic reviews met study inclusion criteria. Weaknesses in tools evaluated by these studies limited their application in assessing pain in the population of interest. Only one tool was designed to assess pain in acute care settings. No tools were located that are designed for paramedic use.

Conclusion

The reviews of pain assessment tools found that the majority were developed to assess chronic pain in aged care, hospital or hospice settings. An analysis of the characteristics of these pain assessment tools identified attributes that may limit their use in paramedic practice. One tool - the Abbey Pain Scale - may have application in paramedic assessment of pain, but clinical evaluation is required to validate this tool in the paramedic practice setting. Further research is recommended to evaluate the Abbey Pain Scale and to evaluate the effectiveness of paramedic pain management practice in older adults to ensure that the care of all patients is unaffected by age or disability.