Sickle cell disease causes considerable morbidity and mortality. Three guidelines exist for the management of vaso-occlusive pain, although studies have shown that these guidelines are not well followed and that there is considerable variation in care. Investigations of clinical pathways for pediatric sickle cell pain have not been published to our knowledge, but research in other pediatric conditions has shown that the implementation of clinical pathways can improve medical care. We initiated an investigation of the effects of a pain management pathway for sickle cell vaso-occlusive crisis in the emergency department (ED) with the hypothesis that the introduction of a clinical pathway would improve the efficiency and efficacy of acute pain management.
We conducted a prospective, cohort study from February 2009 to March 2010 in an urban, tertiary care ED. We collected data from patients aged 3–18 years old with sickle cell disease who presented to the ED with vaso-occlusive crisis (VOC) pain. Baseline data was collected for five months prior to the introduction of the clinical pathway, followed by a four-week time interval in which the ED physicians and nurses were in-serviced on the pathway, followed by six months in which data was collected with the clinical pathway in place. Our pathway, which is in checklist format with instructions for triage, monitoring, medication administration, and timing of assessments and interventions, was developed by representatives from the divisions of Pediatric Hematology, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, and Pediatric Pain Medicine, Symptom Management and Palliative Care and based upon current standard-of-care guidelines.
Over the eleven month study period, 68 patients were enrolled. Random chart audits revealed a 75% capture rate. Significant improvement was demonstrated in time interval to first analgesic from 74 minutes to 42 minutes (p value 0.02), time interval to first opioid from 94 minutes to 46 minutes (p value < 0.01), and time interval to subsequent assessment of pain score from 110 minutes to 72 minutes (p value 0.02). The percentage of patients who received ketorolac also increased from 57% to 82% (p value 0.03). Change in pain scores was not significantly different, nor was admission rate.
Implementation of a pain management pathway for sickle cell VOC led to an improvement in the time interval to administration of first analgesic and time interval to pain re-assessment, bringing these aspects of patient management closer to accepted guidelines. Whether improvement can be made in admission rates, change in pain ratings, and patient satisfaction will require further study.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.