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Researchers Develop Pain Assessment Tool for Noncommunicative Patients

Tuesday February 8, 2011
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Researchers with the University of Maryland School of Nursing have come up with a tool to assess acute pain in noncommunicative patients.

The Multidimensional Objective Pain Assessment Tool (MOPAT) consists of two standardized forms for nurses and other caregivers to use to score values of behavioral and physical indicators or signs from patients.

The development of MOPAT stemmed from earlier work by nurses in post-anesthesia units, where sedated patients could not report pain. It involves scoring patients’ pain levels based on behavorial signs, such as facial expressions, moaning and muscle tension; and physical signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure and sweating.

Lead researcher Deborah McGuire, RN, PhD, FAAN, professor and director of the Developing Center of Excellence in Palliative Care Research and Oncology Graduate Program at the Maryland School of Nursing, said the team tested the tool on noncommunicative patients before and after nurses administered medication. The results, which appear in the Journal of Palliative Care, showed a lessening of patients’ pain.

“We are hoping that it will be used as a standardized tool to help providers to assess pain for noncommunicative patients in a variety of settings,” said Karen Kaiser, RN-BC, PhD, AOCN, CHPN, adjunct professor at the School of Nursing and clinical practice coordinator at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

To that end, the researchers have expanded their study with the help of UMMC nurses who assisted in using MOPAT to measure pain in patients with various medical conditions from 22 different units of the hospital. McGuire said the results indicate the tool is valid, adequately reliable and clinically useful.

“With further study, we hope to see if the MOPAT is helpful in monitoring any shifts in pain levels and aiding nurses and other care providers in management of noncommunicative patients’ pain,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser said the tool theoretically could be used as “a common language,” which does not currently exist. “The way we have tested this is unique, because we used completely noncommunicative patients, who are very hard to study.”


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