Survey: Nearly half of healthcare professionals want pain dropped from vital signs

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A recently released survey of physicians and nurses shows that nearly half are in favor of eliminating pain as the “fifth vital sign.”

The survey, conducted by Medscape, followed a 2016 vote by the American Academy of Family Physicians that agreed to do away with using pain scores as a vital sign, arguing that the measure is subjective and could lead to overprescribing. The American Medical Association also recommended that pain be dropped as a vital sign last summer.

Medscape's survey found that almost half of all physicians and nurses surveyed agree with the groups' recommendations to eliminate the use of pain scores as a vital sign, a practice that gained steam in the 1990's.

Forty-five percent of nurses strongly agreed with the AAFP's vote, while 22% somewhat agreed and 19% strongly disagreed. For physicians, 47% strongly agreed with AAFP, compared to 17% who somewhat agreed and 19% who strongly disagreed.

"No one is suggesting that controlling pain is unimportant," one physician told Medscape after the AAFP vote. But elevating pain to a vital sign "is an uncomfortable distraction and promotes inappropriate patient expectations,” he added.

The survey also found that nearly 80% of nurses said they use pain scores often or always when evaluating patients' pain, while 53% evaluate using a patient's functional status.