Barriers to nurse-led pain management for adult patients in intensive care units: An integrative review

Publication Name

Australian Critical Care


Objective: This integrative review sought to identify and synthesise quantitative and qualitative evidence on barriers to pain management in adult intensive care units (ICUs). Background: Pain is experienced by 58% of adult ICU patients, which leads to consequences such as decreased healing and delirium. Managing pain effectively is an integral part of the critical care nurse's role. Methods: An integrative review was conducted based on Whittemore and Knafl's approach. Peer-reviewed research articles were sourced from five databases. Included articles were limited to those published in English and Arabic. The quality of included papers was evaluated using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool (MMAT). Identified barriers to pain management in adult ICUs were mapped onto the components of the COM-B model. The study was reported using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Results: Nine hundred and ninety-one papers were identified; 19 studies met the inclusion criteria. Seventeen studies focused on pain management from the perspective of nurses, whereas the remaining two focused on the perspectives of patients and nurses. Using the MMAT, two studies were rated 5 stars (out of 5), nine studies were rated 4 stars, seven studies were rated 3 stars, and one study was rated 2 stars. Lack of knowledge and skills was found to be psychological capability barriers, while nurse dependency on following doctor's orders, poor staffing levels, lack of pain assessment skills, and lack of education were barriers mapped to physical capability. Opportunity was represented by three barriers: inadequate documentation of pain and shortage of nurses were mapped to the physical opportunity, and poor communication to the social opportunity. Nurses' beliefs towards pain assessment were mapped to reflective motivation. Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that knowledge, nursing beliefs, insufficient numbers of nursing staff, lack of documentation, and lack of communication commonly affect pain management in adult ICUs. Prospero registration: CRD42020179913

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Sponsor

University of Newcastle Australia



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