The mandates around pain as “the fifth vital sign” and the impact of patient satisfaction on HCAHPS scores have made pain management a high priority for healthcare providers. Patients’ perceptions of how well their pain was managed can have a major influence on their levels of satisfaction with their overall care experience, and improvements to pain management have been shown to boost both patient satisfaction and hospital revenues.
Healthcare providers can be caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to patient satisfaction with pain management. Many physicians feel increasing pressure from patients to prescribe opioid medications when those patients feel that the relief provided by acetaminophen and NSAIDS is inadequate. Some hospitals are trying pain mitigation alternatives, such as administering pain killers and other medications through transdermal patches or nasal sprays rather than intravenously to avoid patients’ negative associations with needle pain.
While treating patients’ physical pain is a major focus, addressing patients’ and caregivers’ fears and concerns and setting their expectations appropriately also can have a significant impact on their satisfaction with their pain management and overall care. In a Becker’s Hospital Review article, Dr. Adam Blomberg, Sheridan’s National Education Director for the Anesthesiology Division, and Chief of Anesthesiology at Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida, said that excellent communication and better patient and caregiver education are key.
Physicians are accustomed to speaking quickly and using medical jargon, which can confuse, overwhelm and sometimes intimidate patients and their caregivers. This type of ineffective communication can further increase their anxiety and stress and lead them to seek answers to their questions and concerns from more approachable and easier-to-understand, but often unreliable, sources. “Physicians who speak with patients clearly, politely and empathetically have been known to receive higher patient satisfaction scores,” said Dr. Blomberg. He also stresses the importance of giving patients a voice, letting them express their concerns and questions and addressing them directly and understandably.
Setting expectations clearly, matter-of-factly and in a timely manner is equally important. Patients are often unsatisfied because of unrealistic expectations, which set everyone up for failure. Dr. Blomberg explained that simply letting the patient know, “yes, you will have some pain but we will work together in addressing that pain, whether it be with medications or regional anesthesia,” can improve satisfaction. So can letting patients know in advance if the pain medication they will be receiving is intended to dull the pain and make it tolerable rather than eliminate it completely.
Patient education also plays an important role in reducing anxiety and making patients feel more empowered. Educating patients about types of anesthesia, the anesthesia team members’ roles, and what to expect before, during and after surgery can be very helpful. While direct, personal communication between providers and patients is essential, ideally they should be supplemented with easily accessible education materials such as Sheridan’s Anesthesia Patient Education portal, which provides an efficient, cost-effective way to provide patients with a reliable source of relevant and helpful information about their upcoming surgery.
To learn more about our anesthesia and pain management programs and our strategies for patient education and communication, contact our anesthesiology division.