Post-surgical pain scores may be an overlooked quality indicator among hospitals, according to new research linking patient-reported pain scores with institutional pain management practices and also surgical outcomes.
A retrospective cohort study of patient-reported pain scores after colorectal resections at 52 Michigan hospitals, published in Annals of Surgery (2016 Jan 7; epub ahead of print; doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000001541), found that patients treated at the best-performing hospitals for postoperative pain scores were more likely to have received patient-controlled analgesia, compared with those in the worst-performing ones (56.5% vs. 22.8%; P less than .001).
For their research, Dr. Scott E. Regenbogen of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his colleagues looked at patient-reported pain scores on the first morning post-surgery for 7,221 colorectal operations between 2012 and 2014. The participating hospitals were part of a statewide collaborative that collects data on surgery patients with the aim of improving quality.
Dr. Regenbogen and his colleagues found that patients in the quartile of hospitals with the best pain scores stayed fewer days (6.5 vs. 7.9, P less than .007) and had fewer post-surgical complications (20.3% vs. 26.4%; P less than .001), compared with those in the worst-performing quartile of hospitals.
In addition, Dr. Regenbogen and his colleagues found postoperative emergency department visits, readmissions, and pulmonary complications to be significantly lower in the quartile of hospitals with the best pain scores. The fewer pulmonary complications seen linked with better pain control “could be an indicator of better pulmonary toilet or lesser respiratory depression,” they noted.
The correlation between surgical outcomes and pain scores, the investigators wrote, suggests “consistency in the overall quality performance across both clinical and patient-reported outcomes for colectomy.”
Mean self-rated pain scores, in which patients characterize the intensity of their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, ranged from 4 to 6 across the hospitals in the study, with 5.1 (standard deviation 2.44) reported for the cohort as a whole. The type of surgery also affected pain scores, with minimally invasive procedures associated with lower scores, compared with open or converted procedures. The type of anesthesia used (local or epidural) also significantly affected scores.
Hospitals with better pain scores tended to be somewhat larger than those with poor scores, and performed more colorectal resections per year, the investigators found.
The researchers noted that while a previous meta-analysis showed that patient-controlled analgesia post-surgery provided superior pain control, compared with intermittent treatment (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;18:CD003348), the hospitals in this study varied widely in their approaches, with 89% of the poorly performing quartile of hospitals using intermittent parenteral narcotics, compared with 66% in the best-performing quartile.
Dr. Regenbogen and his colleagues noted in their analysis that it was possible that the association between pain control and clinical outcomes such as readmissions and complications was driven by case or patient complexity differences among institutions. The 52 hospitals in the study varied in size and type, with community and academic hospitals as well as rural and urban institutions represented.
However, they wrote, it is more likely that “both pain scores and clinical outcomes reflect … global features of the quality of care in hospitals’ surgical performance. Thus, hospitals with the most streamlined, high-quality perioperative care pathways experience the best pain scores, as well as improved clinical outcomes.”
The findings, they concluded, “reveal systematic clinical care variation that could be reduced to improve patients’ experience of pain after colorectal resections.”
The researchers noted as a limitation of the study its reliance on patient-reported pain measures, and that it did not include data on patients’ pain history, opioid use prior to admission, or the administration of pre-emptive analgesia before surgery. The study was funded by the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative, which receives support from Blue Cross Blue Shield. None of the study authors declared conflicts of interest.