Background and objective: The visual analogue scale (VAS) is considered as the gold standard method for postoperative pain assessment. Nevertheless, in some clinical situations, this method may not be reliable. We performed an observational study to assess the use of the VAS and other pain scales by nurses in the postanaesthesia care unit.
Methods: We studied the reasons for not using the VAS and asked if it may be less appropriate in certain age groups.
Results: Among 600 patients included in the study (16% = 70 yr), nurses used the VAS in 53%, the numerical rating scale in 30%, the verbal rating scale in 12% and the behavioural scale in 5%. In 43% of the assessments, nursed did not use the VAS; the most frequently cited reason was related to their preference for other methods. In 54% of the assessments, the reason for not using the VAS was related to the patients, mainly when they were in too much pain to use it (22%). When the patient was in too much pain, the numerical rating scale was chosen in 54% and the behavioural scale in 27%. There was no difference between young patients and elderly patients.
Conclusions: Although the VAS is the standard method to assess pain, the nurses preferred using the numerical rating scale, both spontaneously or when VAS assessment was not possible.