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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language Barriers and Timely Analgesia for Long Bone Fractures in a Pediatric Emergency Department


Introduction: Long bone fractures are common painful conditions often managed in the pediatric emergency department (PED). Delay to providing effective pediatric pain management is multifactorial. There is limited information regarding how the issue of language spoken impacts the provision of adequate and timely institution of analgesia. We sought to determine whether there is a difference between English-speaking and non-English speaking patients with respect to time to pain management for long bone fractures in a multi-ethnic urban PED.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of consecutive cases over 29 months of children <18 years old who presented to the PED with a first-time long bone fracture. A correlation of multiple clinical variables with timeliness to providing analgesia as a primary outcome was determined. We performed regression analysis to eliminate confounding and to determine the magnitude of each variable’s effect on the outcome.

Results: We analyzed a total of 753 patient cases (power 0.95). Regression analysis showed that the variable of English vs non-English language spoken was the most significant predictor of timeliness to pain management (p < 0.001). There was a significant difference in median time to triage measurement of pain score (1 minute vs 4 minutes for English vs non-English speakers [p < 0.001]); median time to initial analgesia (4 minutes vs 13 minutes for English vs non-English speakers (p < 0.001]); and median time to opioid analgesia (32 minutes vs 115 minutes for English vs non-English speakers (p < 0.001]), respectively. All measurements of time were from the creation of a patient’s electronic health record. Just 30% of all patients received an opioid analgesic for treatment of long bone fractures, including only 37% with moderate triage pain scores.

Conclusion: Delay to receiving analgesic medications in pediatric patients with long bone fractures can be augmented by language barriers. Time to providing analgesia for long bone fractures is significantly delayed in non-English speaking families, contributing to disproportionate care in the PED. Furthermore, use of opioid analgesia for fractures in children remains poor.

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