Assessor status influences pain recall – Source: The Journal of Pain, Apr 2007

Anecdotal clinical reports suggest that patients report differing levels of pain, depending on the status within the medical hierarchy of the individual gathering the pain rating. This observation has clinical relevance, given the practice of delegating the assessment of pain to lower status clinic staff members.

In this study, both pain and mood were assessed in 70 patients diagnosed with low back pain at pretreatment, immediately after epidural lumbar injection, and again 2 weeks later by phone.

At the 2-week follow-up, patients were also asked to recall the postprocedural rating that they had given immediately after the injection. This rating was obtained by either the treating physician or by a research assistant who was present at the time of injection, on a randomly determined basis.

Current ratings of pain and mood did not differ for either group before the epidural injection, after the epidural injection, or at the 2-week follow-up. Two-week recall of postprocedural pain did, however, differ depending on assessor status.

Those called by the physician provided recalled pain ratings that closely matched the ratings provided immediately after the procedure. Those called by the research assistant provided ratings that were 86% higher (that is, worse) than their original ratings.

This status-driven bias in recalled postprocedural pain reporting is discussed in the context of social demands inherent in the physician-patient relationship, with implications for assessing treatment effectiveness in clinical practice and research.

Perspective: Accurate assessment of patients’ pain is critical to effective pain management and treatment planning. This study found evidence of a status-based bias in which physicians elicited lower ratings of previously experienced pain associated with treatment procedures than did staff members of lower status.

Source: The Journal of Pain. 2007 Apr;8(4):343-8. PMID: 17223390, by Williams DA, Park KM, Ambrose KR, Clauw DJ. Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. [E-mail:]

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