Residents in nursing homes (NHs) experience pain that is underrecognized and undertreated. This pain contributes to a decline in quality of life. Although descriptive studies of pain assessment and management have been conducted, few have been published that critically evaluate interventions to improve pain management. Identification of the strengths and gaps in the current literature is required. A literature search was conducted of clinical trials that evaluated prospective interventions to improve pain management. Information on the intervention type, resident sample and setting, endpoints, and study design were extracted. Studies were classified based on a modification of Donabedian's model of healthcare quality. Four categories of interventions were identified: actor, decision support, treatment, and systems. The search strategy and selection criteria yielded 21 articles. Eleven studies used an actor intervention; of these, eight also employed a systems intervention, and one also used a treatment intervention. Two studies used a decision support intervention, seven used a treatment intervention, and one used a systems intervention. The overall quality of research was uneven in several areas: research design--nine studies were quasi-experimental in nature, endpoints measures were not consistent--three did not perform statistical analysis, and characteristics of the resident samples varied dramatically. In conclusion, the number of high-quality studies of pain management in NHs remains limited. Process endpoints are used as surrogate measures for resident endpoints. Systematic approaches are needed to understand how each type of intervention improves the quality of pain management at the resident level.
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