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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Under-diagnosis of pain by primary physicians and late referral to a palliative care team

Masako Akashi2*, Eiji Yano2 and Etsuko Aruga1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Palliative Medicine, Teikyo University Hospital, 2-11-1 Kaga Itabashi ku, Tokyo, 173-8605, Japan

2 Department of Hygiene and Public Health, Teikyo University School of Medicine, 2-11-1 Kaga Itabashi ku, Tokyo, 173-8605, Japan

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BMC Palliative Care 2012, 11:7  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-11-7

Published: 7 June 2012

Abstract

Background

Under-diagnosis of pain is a serious problem in cancer care. Accurate pain assessment by physicians may form the basis of effective care. The aim of this study is to examine the association between late referral to a Palliative Care Team (PCT) after admission and the under-diagnosis of pain by primary physicians.

Methods

This retrospective study was performed in the Teikyo University teaching-hospital for a period of 20 months. We investigated triads composed of 213 adult cancer inpatients who had coexisting moderate or severe pain at the initial PCT consultation, 77 primary physicians, and 4 palliative care physicians. The outcome of the present study was the under-diagnosis of pain by primary physicians with routinely self-completed standard format checklists. The checklists included coexisting pain documented independently by primary and palliative care physicians at the time of the initial PCT consultation. Under-diagnosis of pain was defined as existing pain diagnosed

    by
the palliative care physicians only. Late referral to PCTs after admission was defined as a referral to the PCT at ≥20 days after admission. Because the two groups displayed significantly different regarding the distributions of the duration from admission to referral to PCTs, we used 20 days as the cut-off point for “late referral.”

Results

Accurate pain assessment was observed in 192 triads, whereas 21 triads displayed under-diagnosis of pain by primary physicians. Under-diagnosis of pain by primary physicians was associated with a longer duration between admission and initial PCT consultation, compared with accurate pain assessment (25 days versus 4 days, p < 0.0001). After adjusting for potential confounding factors, under-diagnosis of pain by the primary physicians was significantly associated with late (20 or more days) referral to a PCT (adjusted odds ratio, 2.91; 95% confidence interval, 1.27 − 6.71). Other factors significantly associated with under-diagnosis of pain were coexisting delirium and case management by physicians with < 6 years of clinical experience.

Conclusions

Under-diagnosis of pain by primary physicians was associated with late referral to PCTs. Shortening the duration from admission to referral to PCTs, and increasing physicians’ awareness of palliative care may improve pain management for cancer patients.

Keywords:
Palliative care team; Pain; Primary physician; Cancer; Referral; Concordance