Natasha L. Gallant, Allie Peckham, Gregory Marchildon, Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, Blair Roblin and Rhonda J. N. Stopyn.
Keywords: Canada, Long-term care, Pain assessment, Pain management, Quality standards
Background: Among Canadian residents living in long-term care (LTC) facilities, and especially among those with limited ability to communicate due to dementia, pain remains underassessed and undermanaged. Although evidence-based clinical guidelines for the assessment and management of pain exist, these clinical guidelines are not widely implemented in LTC facilities. A relatively unexplored avenue for change is the influence that statutes and regulations could exert on pain practices within LTC. This review is therefore aimed at identifying the current landscape of policy levers used across Canada to assess and manage pain among LTC residents and to evaluate the extent to which they are concordant with evidence-based clinical guidelines proposed by an international consensus group consisting of both geriatric pain and public policy experts.
Methods: Using scoping review methodology, a search for peer-reviewed journal articles and government documents pertaining to pain in Canadian LTC facilities was carried out. This scoping review was complemented by an in-depth case analysis of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario statutes and regulations.
Results: Across provinces, pain was highly prevalent and was associated with adverse consequences among LTC residents. The considerable benefits of using a standardized pain assessment protocol, along with the barriers in implementing such a protocol, were identified. For most provinces, pain assessment and management in LTC residents was not specifically addressed in their statutes or regulations. In Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, regulations mandate the use of the interRAI suite of assessment tools for the assessment and reporting of pain.
Conclusion: The prevalence of pain and the benefits of implementing standardized pain assessment protocols has been reported in the research literature. Despite occasional references to pain, however, existing regulations do not recommend assessments of pain at the frequency specified by experts. Insufficient direction on the use of specialized pain assessment tools (especially in the case of those with limited ability to communicate) that minimize reliance on subjective judgements was also identified in current regulations. Existing policies therefore fail to adequately address the underassessment and undermanagement of pain in older adults residing in LTC facilities in ways that are aligned with expert consensus.