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Thursday, August 19, 2021 3:58 PM

Uncovering the Clinical Impact of Patient-Controlled Analgesia Pumps

Written by Alberta Guy, RN, BSN, Clinical Consultant, Professional Services


Did you know how a patient copes with pain after surgery can impact their recovery? Many hospitals are using patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps because it can make a recovery easier for the patient, alleviate nursing staff of frequently administering medication, and deliver additional benefits. In this blog, we’ll discuss those benefits and share studies of how PCA impacts patients and hospitals alike.

To start, let’s define what exactly PCA pumps are. At its core, patient-controlled analgesia is simply a method of pain control that gives the patient’s the ability to do just that – control their pain. The computerized pump contains a syringe of pain medication – prescribed by a doctor – and is connected directly to a patient’s IV line. Prescribed doses of medication can then be self-administered as needed when the patient simply presses a button. Safety parameters are ordered by the provider and set on the PCA pump to prevent excessive doses of drugs from being self-administered. With integration, the parameters are auto programmed and sent to the PCA smart pump, eliminating the need for the nurse to key the ordered settings and thereby enhancing patient safety.

The Journal of Medicine and Life conducted a study evaluating the benefits of pain control by patients using PCA pump compared to medicine injection to ease the pain by nurses after cardiac surgery. Their findings revealed that the use of PCA pump in acute pain control after open cardiac surgery was better than the NCA (nurse-controlled analgesia). Additionally, there was a statistically notable variation between the two teams regarding satisfaction level with using the PCA pump and the psychological effect on controlling pain.

To understand the why, we have to put ourselves in the patient’s shoes. As the patient, you are really the only person who knows how much pain you’re experiencing. While nurses can observe and see the effect your pain is causing you, they don’t know exactly when it starts or the intensity you might be experiencing. Traditional analgesic regimens are more likely to provide inadequate postoperative analgesia. PCA analgesia circumvents these limitations by giving patients some degree of control over their analgesia. Additionally, waiting until the pain is severe can cause physiological distress, which can slow down the healing process and lower the ability of the medication to alleviate the pain.

When patients use a PCA pump and have the ability to self-administer pain medication, they feel like they’re in control. When you’re experiencing pain, it not only affects you physically, but it can take a toll on you mentally as well. Being in control can really help the patient have a more positive outlook on their situation. With PCA, patients play a more active role in their recovery, which can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety that often happens when they’re unable to take care of themselves. Because the medication enters directly into the bloodstream, pain relief is generally obtained faster than it would be with an injection and makes way for a smoother ride to recovery. Beyond patient safety and satisfaction, PCA also results in less sedation and postoperative complications and requires less nursing time than frequently administering medications.

In 2013, the first national survey of patient-controlled analgesia practices was conducted, at that time, 81% of hospitals used smart pumps for PCA patients. Today, the global infusion pump market is expected to record a value of $18.80 billion by 2025.

While PCA pumps offer significant benefits to patients, they require strict protocols to prevent tampering and overdose concerns. Watch for our upcoming blog post on drug diversion, which touches on this topic. In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about patient-controlled analgesia and smart pump solutions, contact us at to discuss your challenges and goals.