Challenge of improving postoperative pain management: case studies of three acute pain services in the UK National Health Service

A. E. Powell, H. T. O. Davies, J. Bannister, W. A. Macrae

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    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Previous national survey research has shown significant deficits in routine postoperative pain management in the UK. This study used an organizational change perspective to explore in detail the organizational challenges faced by three acute pain services in improving postoperative pain management.

    Case studies were conducted comprising documentary review and semi-structured interviews (71) with anaesthetists, surgeons, nurses, other health professionals, and managers working in and around three broadly typical acute pain services.

    Although the precise details differed to some degree, the three acute pain services all faced the same broad range of inter-related challenges identified in the organizational change literature (i.e. structural, political, cultural, educational, emotional, and physical/technological challenges). The services were largely isolated from wider organizational objectives and activities and struggled to engage other health professionals in improving postoperative pain management against a background of limited resources, turbulent organizational change, and inter- and intra-professional politics. Despite considerable efforts they struggled to address these challenges effectively.

    The literature on organizational change and quality improvement in health care suggests that it is only by addressing the multiple challenges in a comprehensive way across all levels of the organization and health-care system that sustained improvements in patient care can be secured. This helps to explain why the hard work and commitment of acute pain services over the years have not always resulted in significant improvements in routine postoperative pain management for all surgical patients. Using this literature and adopting a whole-organization quality improvement approach tailored to local circumstances may produce a step-change in the quality of routine postoperative pain management.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)824-831
    Number of pages8
    JournalBritish Journal of Anaesthesia
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


    • acute pain services
    • postoperative pain management
    • organizational approaches
    • CARE


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