Patient pain in primary care: Factors that influence physician diagnosis

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25 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The accurate recognition of patient pain is a crucial, but sometimes difficult, task in medical care. This study explored factors related to the physician's diagnosis of pain in primary care patients. METHODS: New adult patients were prospectively randomized to care by primary care providers at a university medical center clinic. Study participants were interviewed prior to the initial visit, and their level of self-reported pain was measured with the Visual Analog Pain Scale and the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36. The medical encounter was videotaped in its entirety and later analyzed using the Davis Observation Code to characterize physician practice style. Patient satisfaction was measured immediately after the visit. A review of the medical record was used to assess physician recognition of patient pain. RESULTS: For all patients (N = 509), as the amount of pain increased, the percentage of patients having pain diagnosed by the physician also increased. Female patients reported a greater amount of pain than male patients. When women were in severe pain, they were more likely than men to have their pain accurately recognized by their physician. The correct diagnosis of pain was not significantly related to patient satisfaction. Physician practice styles emphasizing technically oriented activities and health behavior discussions were strongly predictive of the physician diagnosing patient pain. CONCLUSIONS: The diagnosis of pain is influenced by the severity of patient pain, patient gender, and physician practice style. If the routine use of pain assessment tools is found to be effective in improving physician recognition and treatment of patients' pain, then application of these tools in patient care settings should be encouraged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-230
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Family Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004


  • Pain
  • Physician's practice patterns
  • Physician-patient relations
  • Primary care
  • Signs and symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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