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Chronic pain affects some 70 million Americans yet it is one of the most overlooked medical conditions. Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined, and is a leading cause of disability, according to the American Pain Foundation. Although it is one of the most common reasons patients seek health care, it is often inadequately assessed and treated.
Most hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities are now required to assess and treat pain. However, nurses and other health team members often do not have the preparation or tools to effectively assess and manage pain. This lack of effective pain treatment may drive patients to seek more aggressive care to obtain relief, which can result in unnecessary surgeries, injections or procedures. Unrelieved pain also triggers more hospital admissions, longer hospital stays and unnecessary trips to the emergency room, all of which increase health care costs.
Poor pain management is not just a problem facing adults. Some 20 percent of children experience chronic pain and millions more do not receive effective pain relief. A lack of appropriate treatment puts these children at risk of developing a pain condition that could last a lifetime and make them distrust the medical system.
Nurses are spearheading efforts to find solutions to facilitate better pain management, both in adults and children. A number of projects under the auspices of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) are looking at interventions to help nurses assess and manage pain among patients, finding ways to measure attitudes toward pain treatment and helping patients better manage their own pain.
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