Pain management: Educate to alleviate

Pain management: Educate to alleviate
Teaching techniques to help your nurses manage patients’ pain
Nurses want to provide patients with safe, comfortable care so that they don’t have to
bear unnecessary pain. However, “nursing research is rich with examples of patients
receiving substandard pain management and sparse individualized education,” according
to an article in MEDSURG Nursing. Train your nurses on pain management and give
them the tools and motivation they need to manage discomfort because the absence of
pain management education can be far-reaching.
“Pain is the one thing with patients or residents that if you don’t control it, it’s going to
affect everything else,” says Anne Marie Kelly, BSN, RN-BC, CHPN, a pain
management educator and consultant at Catholic Memorial Home, a 300-bed long-term
care facility in Fall River, MA. “If they have pain, they won’t want to socialize and they
won’t sleep well or eat well. It’s going to impact their whole well-being and their ability
to get well.”
Research supports the theory that pain management helps not only your patients, but your
hospital’s budget as well. A recent article in Nursing noted that: “One incentive for
improving the standard of care for patients with pain is the recognition that unrelieved
pain is both harmful to the patient and expensive. Besides being better for the patient,
good pain control is better for the hospital’s bottom line.”
Margaret Shaw, RN, PNP, a nurse practitioner at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at
Egleston, says the importance of pain management education should not be
underestimated. “You must keep it front and center,” says Shaw, who has been in nursing
for 31 years. “The hardest thing is helping them translate the clinical knowledge into
Plan your pain management lesson
The following strategies will help you educate students about pain management and keep
this critical topic a priority:
➤ Use case studies. “Give them a case and discuss the symptoms the patient has. Ask
the nurse, ‘What would you do? How would you assess this person?’ Have them tell you
what they would report to a physician, what diagnostic tests they might suggest, and so
on,” says Kelly.
A case study helps nurses learn how to assess a patient’s pain, identify symptoms,
recommend the appropriate medications and understand their potential side effects, she
says. “If you present them with a case, they remember talking about a real-life scenario. It
goes beyond textbook stuff.”
➤ Role-play. “Have a nurse play a patient and a nurse play a nurse,” says Kelly. “Have
the patient say how he or she is feeling and teach the nurse how to respond.”
➤ Use imagery. Shaw has child patients use guided imagery and visualization to help
them define and communicate the pain they experience.
“If a child has a painful procedure, next time they come in, they’re going to remember
it,” says Shaw. “They don’t forget. So if you get this across to nurses, they will work to
make it as painless as possible.”
➤ Apply tactile communication. Tactile strategies are often extremely effective, says
“I ask my students to put a clothes pin on the inner part of their arm,” Kelly says. “I tell
them to leave it on there until I tell them to take it off. Some nurses will have it on and it
won’t bother them; others, you see them grimace from the pinching. At the end, I ask
them to tell me what the pain rating is from one to 10. The ratings will go from one all
the way to 10. It teaches them that the same clothes pin placed on the exact same place
will elicit different amounts of pain.”
Dulling painful misconceptions
Perhaps the biggest challenge you may face when educating your nurses on pain
management is eradicating misconceptions. “Some people, for instance, believe that good
patients don’t complain or that pain is inevitable,” according to the Nursing article.
For example, some nurses may have misunderstandings concerning older patients.
“There are misconceptions with the elderly that ‘They’re old, so they’re supposed to have
pain,’ ” says Kelly.
Others may believe that pain is visual.
“They might believe that if someone’s in pain then they’re supposed to look like they’re
in pain,” says Kelly.
These fallacies are rooted in a lack of education and demonstrate the strong need for
thorough pain management education.
“When you hear about someone with a misconception, educate them,” Shaw says. “We
are continually trying to get the point across of what pain management is and the
importance of it.”
Behrens, E. (1996). “An ethical approach to pain management,” MEDSURG Nursing 5
(6): 457–458.
McCaffery, M. (2001). “Overcoming barriers to pain management,” Nursing 31 (4): 18.
Source: The Staff Educator, May 2008, HCPro, Inc.