Waiting for the nurse to come with the pain shot is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
Doctors say a three-year study of a device that lets hospital patients administer small amounts of painkiller to themselves as they need it shows the machine is ready for general use.
"Anyone who has undergone surgery knows how terrible it can be to be in excruciating pain and have to wait for a nurse to come with an injection," says Dr. Paul White, a Stanford University anesthesiologist involved in the study.
With the patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) device, a patient can send painkiller into his intravenous tube by pushing a button similar to a nurse call button. A computer limits the frequency and dosage to prevent overdose. Typically, a patient can receive painkiller every 15 minutes, compared with a shot every four hours from a nurse.
"We've found that most patients use less medication with PCA," White says. "And, because the patient is taking responsibility for their own care, there's a real psychological benefit."
PCA machines, which cost between $1,500 and $3,000, became commercially available last year. They can be rented by hospitals for about $80 a month.
In the Stanford study of 250 post-surgical patients, there have been "only two minor problems from patients not clearly understanding how to use the PCA." One didn't understand that she was responsible for administering the medicine. The other had complications because of a history of drug abuse, so his dose was lowered.
There were no overdoses.