The Verbal Numeric Pain Scale: Effects of Patient Education on Self-reports of Pain

Catherine A. Marco, Alan P. Marco, Michael C. Plewa, Nancy Buderer, Jameson Bowles, Jennifer Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Emergency department (ED) patients are frequently asked to provide a self-report of the level of pain experienced using a verbal numeric rating scale. Objectives: To determine the effects of patient education regarding the verbal numeric rating scale on self-reports of pain among ED patients. Methods: In this prospective, interventional study, 310 eligible ED patients with pain, aged 18 years and older, were randomized to view either a novel educational video (n = 155) or a novel print brochure (n = 155) as an educational intervention, both developed to deliver educational information about the verbal numeric pain scale and its use. Participants initially rated their pain on a scale from 0 to 10 and then were administered the educational intervention. Following the educational intervention, participants completed a survey that included demographic information, postinterventional pain score, prior pain experience, and subjective rating of the helpfulness of the educational intervention. Fifty-five consecutive participants were enrolled as controls and received no educational intervention but gave a self-reported triage pain score and a second pain score at an equivalent time interval. Clinical significance was defined as a decrease in pain of 2 or more points following the education. Results: Following the educational interventions, there were statistically significant, although not clinically significant, decreases in mean pain scores within each intervention group (video: mean change, 1 point [95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.7 to 1.2]; printed brochure: mean change, 0.6 points [95% CI = 0.4 to 0.8]). For participants in the control group (no intervention), there was no significant change (mean change, 0.2 points [95% CI = -0.2 to 0.5]). A clinically significant decrease in pain was seen in 28% of the video group, 23% of the brochure group, and 5% of controls. Most patients had no change (71% of the video group, 73% of the brochure group, and 89% of controls). Participants rated the helpfulness of the video educational intervention as 7.1 (95% CI = 6.7 to 7.5) and the print educational intervention as 6.7 (95% CI = 6.2 to 7.1) on a scale from 0 (least effective) to 10 (most helpful). Conclusions: Among ED participants with pain, both educational interventions (video and printed brochure) resulted in statistically and clinically significant decreased self-reported pain scores by 2 or more points in 26% of participants compared with 5% of controls. The educational interventions were rated as helpful by participants, with no appreciable difference between the two intervention groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-859
Number of pages7
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Emergency Medicine


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