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Impact of Patient-controlled Analgesia on Required Nursing Time and Duration of Postoperative Recovery
  1. Vincent W. S. Chan, M.D.*,
  2. Frances Chung, M.D.,
  3. Maureen McQuestion, R.N. and
  4. Manuel Gomez, M.D.
  1. *Department of Anesthesia, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, and the
  2. Department of Anesthesia
  3. Acute Pain Service, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Reprint requests: Vincent W. S. Chan, M.D., Department of Anesthesia, University of California, San Francisco, Box 0648, San Francisco, CA 94143-0648.


Background and Objectives. Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) offers effective postoperative pain management. However, the evidence of economic benefits associated with its use is lacking. Although suggestive, the potential economic advantages of PCA in saving nursing time and shortening hospital stay need objective documentation.

Methods. This study compared the effects of morphine administered by PCA systems with intra-muscular (IM) morphine injection on patient analgesic response, satisfaction, nursing time requirements, and postoperative recovery in 23 patients undergoing “open” cholecystectomy and 44 patients undergoing lumbar laminectomy and bony fusion. After the operation, patients in the PCA group received 1.5-2 mg morphine with a lockout of 5-10 minutes on demand, whereas those in the IM group received 0.15-0.2 mg/kg every 4 hours on demand. Visual analog scale (VAS) pain scores and satisfaction scores were evaluated at 4-hour intervals while nursing time spent on both analgesia-related and non-analgesia-related activities was recorded continuously by a team of independent observers on the ward. Recovery time profile for the return of bowel function, activities of daily living, ambulation without support, and length of hospital stay was also recorded.

Results. It was found that morphine consumption, VAS, and satisfaction scores were similar in both PCA and IM treatment groups following both types of surgery. However, the delay in nurse response to IM morphine request ranged from 27.2 ± 3.2 to 42.1 ± 11.8 minutes. The demand of nursing time on analgesia administration was less with PCA. The magnitude of time saving was 10 min/patient/d in chole-cystectomy patients and 13 min/patient/d in laminectomy patients. The speed of post-operative patient recovery was similar between the two analgesia groups. Length of hospital stay following cholecystectomy was shorter—92.0 ± 5.9 hours with PCA versus 128.6 ± 22.2 hours with IM (not statistically significant)—whereas that following laminectomy was not different.

Conclusions. Data in this study have demonstrated some beneficial effects of PCA on nursing time requirements when it was used following cholecystectomy and lumbar laminectomy at the University of Toronto; however, the magnitude of these benefits was less than previously reported. The effects of PCA on postoperative recovery and hospital stay, however, were not significantly different from IM therapy.

  • patient-controlled analgesia
  • morphine
  • postoperative pain
  • cholecystectomy
  • laminectomy

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  • Dr. Chan was affiliated with the University of Toronto at the time this research was conducted.

    This work was supported by Abbott Laboratories, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.