Background Neonates undergo many painful procedures during their NICU stay. These may include tracheal intubation/ventilation, skin-breaking procedures, drainage/suctioning of body orifices or cavities. Inherent subjectivity and difficulties of neonatal pain assessment contribute to a wide variety of assessment tools and clinical practices. To date, these practices have been not studied at a large scale.
Objective To determine current clinical practices for neonatal pain assessment in NICUs across Europe.
Methods An epidemiological observational study on bedside pain assessment practices collected data for all neonates in participating NICUs until infants left the unit (discharge, death, transfer to another hospital) or for 28 days. Data collection occurred via an online database for 1 month at each NICU. All neonates up to a gestational age of 44 weeks were included.
Results From October 2012 to June 2013, 243 NICUs from 18 European countries collected pain assessment data in 6680 neonates. Of these, 2142 received tracheal ventilation (TV), 1496 non-invasive ventilation (NIV) and 3042 only spontaneous ventilation (SV). The median (IQR) gestational age of TV, NIV and SV neonates were 32.1 (28.1–37.4), 33.6 (31.0–36.6) and 37.9 (35.0–39.9), respectively (p < 0.001). Overall, 58.5% of TV neonates, 45.0% of NIV neonates and 30.4% of SV neonates received bedside pain assessments (p < 0.001). Fig. shows pain assessments by country.
Conclusions Over half (58.5%) of TV neonates and less than half (45.0%) of NIV neonates had pain assessments performed in European NICUs. Wide variations in the rates of pain assessment exist among countries and an important improvement seems necessary.