In pain management are you afraid to give comfort to your patients with appropriate medications? Are you afraid to be comforted when in pain? Have you encountered families or care partners, who are afraid to comfort their loved one in pain by giving pain medications?
In a classic 2002 qualitative study, “Fearing to Comfort,” Zerwekh, Riddell, & Richard identified that RNs, physicians, patients, families, and health systems were afraid to relieve pain with appropriate use of pain medications. They were Not doing evidence-based practice, but fear-based practice.
Fear barriers include, but are not limited to 1) patients’ fear of addiction, fear of distracting the MD from the main treatment plan, and loss of control; 2) MDs’ avoiding the needs of the dying, fear of rewarding drug-seekers, or equating pain management with euthanasia; 3) RNs’ avoiding pain, failing to switch to palliative goals at end of life, and fear of killing the patient; 4) families’ fears of addiction, side effects, & killing their loved one; and 5) health facilities’ not giving unique consideration to those at end of life, inadequate staffing, & time constraints (Zerwekh et al., 2002).
This is an issue because irrational problems cannot be simply solved by giving rational information. We have to find evidence-based practices that can create a change of heart, if you will. As Zerwekh et al wrote: “Because fear is so influential in decisions to keep pain under control, palliative educational approaches must go beyond providing information to fill deficits in palliative knowledge.”
We must learn evidence-based ways to overcome fear and control pain. Why? Because pain interferes with living life. Who are we protecting when we fear appropriate pain medications? Not the patient.
Remedy? Palliative care education must confront the fears and remove them through cognitive restructuring that includes learning to question beliefs about addiction etc. Role playing, role modeling, and an expert walking through this with the provider or family who is afraid. Beyond this helping people to recognize their own fears of pain & death, and providing the very best available information on pain management (Zerwekh et al).
CRITICAL THINKING: Have you been afraid? Or seen others afraid? How can you solve this problem using evidence-based practice that = BEST available evidence + Clinical judgment + Patient/family preferences & values? Be specific because if you haven’t yet encountered the problem of fearing to comfort, be assured that you will.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Read full text Zerwekh et al (2002) online. It could change your life & the life of those for whom you care!!