BACKGROUND - Measurement of postoperative pain scores on arrival to the postanesthesia care unit (PACU) is a potential quality metric for supervising anesthesiologists. Our goal in this study was to determine whether rank-ordering by initial PACU numeric rating scale (NRS) pain score, as collected by nurses in a nonresearch clinical setting, could be used to compare anesthesiologists after adjusting for confounding factors.
METHODS - For a large population of adult patients, the admission PACU NRS pain scores (0-10) were evaluated using proportional odds mixed effects models. Fixed effects included age, gender, race, opioids in the preoperative medication list, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) physical status classification, emergency surgery, laparoscopic approach, outpatient status, anesthesiologist, and PACU nurse; surgeon and surgical procedure were included as random effects.
RESULTS - A total of 26,680 initial PACU pain scores were analyzed. The PACU nurse had the largest observed association with initial PACU pain score. Compared with the nurse with the median covariate adjusted NRS score, the odds ratio (OR) for an increased reported pain score ranged from 0.16 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.11 to 0.24) to 2.95 (95% CI 2.43 to 3.59). For anesthesiologists, the ORs for an increase in reported pain ranged from 0.60 (95% CI 0.37 to 0.99) to 1.44 (95% CI 0.98 to 2.11). Factors associated with increased pain scores were preoperative opioids, female gender, and ASA physical status 2 and 3. Lower pain scores were associated with outpatient surgery, laparoscopy, African American race, and older patients.
CONCLUSIONS - There is little to no evidence to suggest that supervising anesthesiologists can be compared with one another effectively using admission PACU NRS pain scores. The confounding association of the PACU nurse eliciting the admission pain score greatly exceeded the contribution by the anesthesiologist.