Hospitalized children experience significant pain despite improvement efforts. This study was undertaken to better understand the epidemiology of acute pain in hospitalized children and the extent to which existing measures reveal targets for improving pain management.


A cross-sectional survey was used to audit pain assessment, intensity, prevalence, source, and treatment hospital-wide on a single day in 2011. Chart audits were performed on patients aged 0 to 21 years. All patients had the option to participate in a structured interview about their pain experience.


The audit included 112 children, 47 of whom were interviewed. Pain prevalence obtained by child/parent interview (72%) was more than twice that documented by nurses (30%). Infants, but not cognitively impaired children, had significantly lower rates of pain detection and analgesic ordering than older age groups. Procedural pain was the most frequently cited source of pain among interviewed patients and was poorly addressed in the medical record. Fifty percent of children with documented moderate-to-severe pain received scheduled pain medications. More than one-third of interviewed patients would have wanted more pain medication if it could have been safely given.


Specific gaps remain in the quality of pain management provided to hospitalized children. Focus on infant pain detection, assessment and management of procedural pain, and scheduled analgesic ordering are sensible targets for future process improvement efforts.

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