Brief consultations cut chronic pain patient visits to ED

A simple 15- to 30-minute behavioral health consultation can cut chronic pain patients' visits to emergency rooms, according to a study in the September issue of the Journal of Emergency Nursing. The reduction in visits is especially pronounced for frequent pain patients who pre-intervention visited a hospital ED more than four times in six months.

Although hospital emergency rooms are not the best place to get help for less pressing health issues, patients with chronic pain continue to turn to them, regardless. Researchers hypothesize that a behavioral health intervention would better serve chronic pain patients and help hospitals provide cost-effective treatment at the appropriate level of care. They conducted their study in a small acute-care hospital with a 15-bed emergency department that sees 16,500 patients a year.

The intervention involved 15- to 30-minutes of counseling during which someone taught the patient pain management strategies and reinforced the need for a primary-care physician to manage pain medication, HealthDay News reports. Six months after the consultations were added, a low-use group used the ED an average of 1.4 times compared with 1.8 times in the six months before the intervention. The high-use group, saw its mean utilization drop to 4.0 ED visits from 6.8 visits in six months.

"This study suggests that an emergency department-based behavioral health consultation may be useful for reducing high utilization of emergency department services by some chronic pain patients, particularly those who consume the most services," the authors conclude.

To learn more:
- read the abstract of the article in Sept. issue of the Journal of Emergency Nursing
- see the HealthDay News story