Study says nurses are key to pain management. So why are some patients suffering?

As the opioid crisis continues to rise and hospitals are looking for new ways to treat pain, a new study says that nurse staffing levels in hospitals are key for hospital patients’ satisfaction for pain management.

“The findings highlight the need for adequate numbers of nursing staff to achieve optimal patient satisfaction with pain management,” said Connell School of Nursing (CSON) Associate Professor Judith Shindul-Rothschild, the lead author of the article, “Beyond the Pain Scale: Provider Communication and Staffing Predictive of Patients’ Satisfaction with Pain Control.”

“Given the opioid crisis, pain management is front and center in health care today,” added Shindul-Rothschild. “We need to think very critically of how we are managing pain, how we are communicating with patients, and how members of treatment teams are communicating with each other.”

Minnesota nurses say they know all too well the pain patients experience when hospitals don’t schedule enough nurses for duty. In a survey of Minnesota nurses by the Minnesota Nurses Association, 42 percent said patients in the last year had experienced prolonged pain or discomfort due to short staffing.

Patients experience prolonged pain when medications can’t be delivered on time. In addition, nurses aren’t able to respond to call lights in a timely manner, and patients are left with needs being unmet.

The consequences of untreated pain include physiological problems apart from human suffering. When a patient’s pain is left untreated, it can impair recovery from acute illness or surgery and can even cause immunosuppression and sleep disturbances.

As the literature shows, untreated pain can also increase morbidity as a result of respiratory dysfunction; increased heart rate and cardiac workload; increased muscular contraction and spasm; decreased gastrointestinal motility and transit; and increased catabolism (Lewis, Heitkemper, & Dirksen, 2004).

From 2014 to 2016, Minnesota nurses reported a 30 percent increase in delays in medication due to short staffing by hospitals, putting more patients at risk for complications and death.

Learn why nurses are asking lawmakers to stand up and support quality patient care and safe nurse-to-patient ratios.

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