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J Gen Intern Med. 2010 Mar;25(3):194-9. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1194-3. Epub 2009 Dec 15.

Documentation of pain care processes does not accurately reflect pain management delivered in primary care.

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  • 1Center on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice, Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Indianapolis, IN, USA.



Researchers and quality improvement advocates sometimes use review of chart-documented pain care processes to assess the quality of pain management. Studies have found that primary care providers frequently fail to document pain assessment and management.


To assess documentation of pain care processes in an academic primary care clinic and evaluate the validity of this documentation as a measure of pain care delivered.


Prospective observational study.


237 adult patients at a university-affiliated internal medicine clinic who reported any pain in the last week.


Immediately after a visit, we asked patients to report the pain treatment they received. Patients completed the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI) to assess pain severity at baseline and 1 month later. We extracted documentation of pain care processes from the medical record and used kappa statistics to assess agreement between documentation and patient report of pain treatment. Using multivariable linear regression, we modeled whether documented or patient-reported pain care predicted change in pain at 1 month.


Participants' mean age was 53.7 years, 66% were female, and 74% had chronic pain. Physicians documented pain assessment for 83% of visits. Patients reported receiving pain treatment more often (67%) than was documented by physicians (54%). Agreement between documentation and patient report was moderate for receiving a new pain medication (k = 0.50) and slight for receiving pain management advice (k = 0.13). In multivariable models, documentation of new pain treatment was not associated with change in pain (p = 0.134). In contrast, patient-reported receipt of new pain treatment predicted pain improvement (p = 0.005).


Chart documentation underestimated pain care delivered, compared with patient report. Documented pain care processes had no relationship with pain outcomes at 1 month, but patient report of receiving care predicted clinically significant improvement. Chart review measures may not accurately reflect the pain management patients receive in primary care.

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