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Professionals underestimate patients' pain, suggests comprehensive review

Healthcare professionals should take heed of patients' self-assessment of pain, researchers recommend

Healthcare professionals should take heed of patients' self-assessment of pain, researchers recommend

Patients' experience of pain is consistently underestimated by healthcare professionals, researchers have found.


Patients' self-assessment of pain should be the rule in clinical practice as it is in clinical trials, say researchers. Picture: Alamy

The comprehensive review presents the findings of the most recently published data comparing pain assessments of adult patients and professionals in clinical practice over a 25-year period. It examined 80 published studies with an overall study population of almost 21,000 patients from a range of clinical environments.

Underestimation of pain by professionals compared with patients was reported in 62 of the 80 studies. There was no difference in 17 and overestimation in one.

The extent of underestimation often increased with pain severity.

Accord between professionals and patients living with cancer about the intensity or severity of the patient’s pain is often lacking.

The researchers recommend that a patient’s self-assessment of pain should be ‘the rule in clinical practice as it is in clinical trials’.

They also suggest that there needs to be new research carried out to better understand the problem of professionals underestimating pain, including investigations into the psychological impact and ways to ameliorate its effects.

Seers T et al (2018) Professionals underestimate patients' pain: a comprehensive review. Pain. 158, 5, 811-818. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001165 


Dion Smyth is a lecturer-practitioner in cancer and palliative care at Birmingham City University

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