Our purpose is to evaluate the reliability and validity of the '5th vital sign' in everyday practice settings and to compare the relationship of pain to other symptoms and pain treatment in patients with cancer, CHF, and patients with complex general medical illness and poor self-reported health.
Heart Failure, Congestive
Signs and Symptoms
Background/Rationale: The Veterans Administration (VA) faces a substantial challenge in trying to improve symptomatic care. An important priority is how to ensure pain relief. Studies show that pain is a major symptom for patients with advanced chronic illness in general. Drawing upon different clinical paradigms for the evaluation and treatment of pain, this study focuses on improving measurement and interpretation of routine pain screening in ambulatory VA patients as an important step to improving end-of-life care. Objective(s): In a variety of outpatient settings (hospital-based, large outpatient multi-specialty, and community-based) at the VA Greater Los Angeles (GLA) and Long Beach (LB) Healthcare Systems, we conducted surveys to capture patient, nurse, and clinician perspectives to evaluate the reliability and validity of pain as a 5th vital sign. We assessed skills that may be associated with pain measurement practices of nursing staff. Clinician knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding the need to alleviate pain detected on routine screening were evaluated. Methods: Screen, enroll, and survey 650 cognitively intact patients with advanced CHF, cancer, and advanced general medical illness stratified by self-reported health status immediately after they are seen in outpatient clinics (general medicine, oncology, and cardiology clinics). Patients were approached and surveyed immediately after the outpatient visit on validated pain instruments, measures of depression, other symptoms, quality of life, attitudinal barriers to treatment of pain, the pain rating process, and unmet needs and satisfaction with treatment of pain, depression, and other symptoms. All nursing staff working as pain raters in the general medicine, oncology, and cardiology clinics were surveyed to assess relevant skills that may be associated with pain measurement practices. All clinicians (physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) working as treatment providers in these clinics were surveyed after patient visits to assess knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of clinicians with regard to the need to alleviate pain detected on routine screening. Results: We found that in approximately 50% of cases, clinic staff taking vital signs used informal (e.g., 'How do you feel?') rather than forma (e.g., 0-10 NRS) methods to assess pain, and that practice was associated with underestimation of patient-reported pain to research staff in about 30% of cases. Factors associated with underestimation of patient reported pain to nurses compared with research raters included more years of staff work experience, patient anxiety or PTSD disorders, and lower self-reported health. Overestimation was associated with adherence to the formal NRS and negatively associated with a better environment for pain rating. About 40% of patients had emotional distress which was higher among patients in moderate to severe pain (62%). Only prior diagnosis and sleep interference due to pain were associated with provider detection of distress. Status: Enrollment is closed; IRB approved at VA GLA and LB Healthcare Systems.