Detecting children's pain in a healthcare setting can be improved by facilitating pain expression in ways that are appropriate to the child's cognitive development and that can be recognised by their carers. To ensure up-to-date guidance on assessing pain in children, the Royal College of Nursing undertook an evidence-based update of pain assessment guidelines, initially published in 2000.
Following systematic review of the psychometric testing literature, a two-stage critical appraisal process was developed to derive a list of robust tools that could be recommended for use in a variety of settings to assess the intensity of a child's acute pain. Studies were appraised on the basis of their relevance to this topic and according to prespecified quality criteria. Tools were assessed for inclusion in guideline recommendations according to minimum validity and reliability thresholds.
Overall the quality of literature was poor, limited by small samples, lack of control groups, unblinded raters and convenience sampling. Twenty-four tools are recommended for use with infants and verbal children without cognitive impairment, 11 of which are purely self-report tools. Eight tools are recommended for use with neonates, some of which require concurrent physiological measures. Four tools are considered valid for use in children with cognitive impairment. All of these tools had shown reliability and validity according to the criteria established for this review.
The tools are presented in user-friendly tables that include a guide to their key features and the setting and age groups in which they have been validated. They are accompanied by good practice recommendations from experts and recommendations relating to timing and triggers for pain assessment. These outputs are some of those associated with the full guidelines and supporting material published on the Royal College of Nursing website (http://www.rcn.org.uk/childrenspainguideline).