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Prehosp Emerg Care. 2005 Jan-Mar;9(1):32-9.

Prehospital pain management: a comparison of providers' perceptions and practices.

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Department of Pediatrics, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Section, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53226, USA.



To assess the knowledge of emergency medical technicians-paramedics (EMT-Ps) and compare their practice perceptions with actual pain management interventions in adults and pediatric patients (adolescents and children) with chest pain (CP), extremity injuries, or burns.


This study included a cross-sectional survey of EMT-Ps and review of the emergency medical services (EMS) system patient care database. EMT-Ps were surveyed for: 1) knowledge of pain treatment protocol; 2) estimated number of CP, extremity injury, or burn encounters and the frequency of morphine administration; and 3) barriers to providing morphine. Data on patients transported with any above conditions and those who received morphine were abstracted from the EMS patient care database. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated.


Of 202 EMT-Ps, 155 (77%) completed the survey. Eighty-two percent reported knowledge of pain treatment protocol for both adults and pediatric patients. For adults, EMT-Ps estimated they administered morphine to 37% with CP (95% CI 35, 40), 24% with extremity injuries (95% CI 17, 30), and 89% with burns (95% CI 52, 99). In children and adolescents, inability to assess pain (93%) was the most common reason for withholding morphine. According to the EMS database, 5% of adults with CP (95% CI 4, 5), 12% extremity injuries (95% CI 8, 15), and 14% burns (95% CI 8, 20) received morphine. In children and adolescents, 3% with extremity injuries (95% CI 1, 5) and 9% with burns (95% CI 0, 26) received morphine. Pain score was documented in 67.0% of adult patients, compared with only 4.0% in pediatric patients (Delta = 63.0%, 95% CI: 60, 65).


Significant disparity exists between EMT-Ps' perceptions of acute pain assessment and the frequency of providing analgesia and their actual practice. Children and adolescents had less documentation of pain assessment and received less analgesic interventions compared with adults. Inability to assess pain may be an important barrier to the provision of analgesia.

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