People know to visit an emergency room if they are injured, but many are not aware of how to manage ongoing pain after they leave.

Assistant Professor of Nursing Steve Stapleton is hoping to change that with his research. Stapleton wants to help providers better address the needs of patients suffering from acute pain–which is defined as pain, usually from an injury, lasting less than three months.

image of Steve Stapleton

Steve Stapleton

In the past, research has consisted of mainly anecdotal data from follow-up phone calls. An emergency room (ER) nurse will follow-up with a patient 48 to 72 hours after discharge to see how they are managing their pain. “We do these ‘call-backs’ to make sure the patient is following instructions, taking their medications, and doing their follow-up doctor visit,” said Stapleton. “But there have been few studies on how people manage their pain after being discharged from the emergency department.”

Stapleton explained that although the resolution of acute pain is a complicated process, having a better understanding of how acute pain affects patients’ daily lives may lead to improved discharge instructions and interventions designed to follow-up with patients on a regular basis.

So far, he has conducted a pilot study with a small sample of patients. “What I found is that people don’t really know how to manage their pain,” he said. “They don’t always listen to the instructions of health-care professionals, but to be fair, we only have a short period of time to educate the patient on how to take care of their pain before we let them go.”

In order to obtain more data, Stapleton would like to expand his research nationwide. “We can tailor our interventions to meet the needs of the people through this research,” he said. “For example, maybe the written instructions are not valuable to the patient, maybe they throw the instructions away–maybe we could do a short video instead that we could send them about how to manage their pain.”

He intends to expand his research by creating a mobile application to allow more patients the opportunity to be a part of the study. He explained that the app would allow for more data collection because the patients would be able to log their information daily through the use of technology–instead of face-to-face as was done in the pilot study.

The expanded study would involve a daily log of pain management as well as a four-to-five-question survey after seven days of the initial ER visit. “I hope to gain a better understanding of how patients manage their pain, so that we as providers can address those issues having some data behind it,” he said.

Stapleton believes this research is important because it will help providers address the needs of the patients. “We want to have good outcomes, we want to help people heal, we want them to follow up with their primary physician, and be engaged in their own healthcare,” he said.

The complete findings of the pilot program study were published in The Journal of Emergency Nursing and The International Emergency Nursing Journal.