Original Article| Volume 11, ISSUE 2, P108-114, June 2010

Level of Pain and Waiting Time in the Emergency Department

Published:September 22, 2009DOI:


      Pain is the leading reason individuals seek emergency care. Studies have concluded that acute pain conditions are underevaluated and undertreated in the emergency department (ED). There is a paucity of information about how the severity of pain influences the time spent in the ED before being seen by a physician. Therefore, this study focuses on what role pain plays regarding time to treatment in the ED, i.e., to examine the effects of patients' perceived level of pain on wait time in the ED. The CDC's National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Survey 2003 data were used in this study. The sample consisted of 12,860 caucasians and African Americans with a mean age of 44.52 years. Analysis of covariance was used to explore differences in length of waiting time in ED based on race, triage nurses rating of the immediacy of the need to be seen by a physician, and the level of pain the patient reported. The findings showed that patients' reports of pain had very little effect on the length of waiting time. Given the sample size, we feel there is adequate power to detect the effect of pain in determining the length of waiting time to see a physician if it were present. In addition, African Americans had a statistically significant longer wait (15.29minutes) than Whites. The effect of race might be interpreted as another example of health disparities or could be a hospital-level effect which was not examined within this model.
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