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Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2005 May;23(2):297-306.

Changing attitudes about pain and pain control in emergency medicine.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, 1150 Moran Building, 175 North Medical Drive, East Salt Lake City, Utah 84132, USA.


Oligoanalgesia continues to be a large problem in the ED. An attitude of suspicion, a culture of ignoring the problem, and an environment that is not conducive to change in practice combine to present formidable obstacles for effective pain management in the emergency setting. Overcoming these obstacles for effective analgesia in the ED is not beyond the capabilities of the individual ED, the emergency physician, or the specialty of emergency medicine. Changing the attitudes of emergency medical providers about pain assessment and management will require attention in several areas of research, education and training. Oligoanalgesia remains a global problem within emergency medicine; however, this awareness is often not felt to be present "in my ED." Individual ownership of the problem may contribute to improvements in pain control. The last 15 years have seen a substantial increase in ED research focused on pain and pain management. Continued research efforts and focused clinical application of these efforts are still required. A better understanding of patient needs and expectations for pain relief, as well as continued efforts at patient education regarding pain, will also improve our treatment of pain in the ED. Recognition by providers of the ethnic, cultural, and gender differences in the expression, reporting, and expectations for treatment of pain should also continue to be a priority in changing attitudes toward pain and pain control. These goals must be realistic within the chaotic and unpredictable environment that defines emergency medicine. Practical and time-sensitive approaches to pain and pain management will continue to bea challenge to enact and enforce in our EDs. The stigma of opioids, in combination with the transient nature of the emergency physician/patient relationship, may be the largest hurdles to overcome for effective pain management not only in the ED, but also following ED discharge. Improvement in provider education of the realities, myths, and misunderstandings of opioid management may provide insight into this problem. The consequences of oligoanalgesia in the ED are not insignificant. To improve our treatment of pain in the ED, a fundamental change in attitude toward pain and the control of pain is required. This is unlikely to occur until pain is adequately addressed and treated appropriately as a true emergency.

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