Pain is the primary reason people go to a hospital’s emergency room (ER), yet addressing this pain is far down the list of priorities in the ER setting, which infuriates patients and creates a hostile hospital environment for medical practitioners and patients alike.
I talked with 15 local residents, randomly selected at the local Tim Hortons, and every single one of them told me that they or a loved one or a friend had visited the ER at the new Humber River Regional Hospital in the past year with acute pain. While each patient had different conditions and symptoms, they were all outraged that not only was their pain dismissed or ignored by medical professionals, but also that they were often left for hours in isolated rooms, in agony, without any idea when, or if, someone would help them. More than one patient left after waiting for more than 4 hours and went to a different hospital to seek help for their agonizing pain.
Studies have shown that reduction of pain levels directly translates into patient satisfaction of ER visits. Prompt pain management also improves mood, decreases length of hospital stay, and even decreases mortality rates! With Ontario facing worsening patient satisfaction in overcrowded ERs, why is pain management so far down the list of priorities during ER visits?
While pain management does present challenges, medical practitioners in ER departments are all trained in proper treatment practices and guidelines. Something as simple as administering a standard dose of an over-the-counter painkiller may make the difference between incredible suffering and being able to tolerate the already frustrating wait times. It is understandable that triage in the ER must focus on those with the most severe medical trauma, which doesn’t always match the pain people feel. Nevertheless, all patients should be receive rapid pain management during the triage process, not hours later when a doctor finally gets to them (https://www.omicsgroup.org/journals/acute-pain-management-in-the-emergency-department-emphasis-on-nsaids-2165-7548.1000171.php?aid=22063). As the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada has argued, “controlling pain early in the presentation of a patient’s illness or soon after an injury is an important duty of healthcare practitioners”. To that effect, all hospitals should “develop and sustain comprehensive pain management systems and protocols” in their emergency rooms. Such a simple thing will go a long way to improving the experiences of patients visiting Ontario’s hospitals. That’s truly “patient care reinvented”.