Doctoral graduate explores correlation between pain of older people and emergency room visits

Frances Patmon, Ph.D. R.N., M.S.N.
Frances Patmon

Pain is the No. 1 complaint reported by people seeking care in the emergency department and is a growing concern for the adult population ages 65 and older. As an emergency-room nurse, Frances Patmon noticed many people seeking treatment were the same ones returning with the same complaints two to three times in a month. In pursuing her doctoral degree in the Nursing Science and Health-Care Leadership Doctor of Philosophy Program at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, Patmon delved into research to find out how often these older individuals repeat visits occurred and what health-care systems could be established to create a better continuum of care.

“After I’d see these people repeatedly, I realized that they didn’t have an advocate for their health care,” Patmon explained. “After leaving the emergency department, they would often return to a skilled nursing facility. But a couple of weeks later they would be back with no significant change in their pain or condition.”

One study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine concluded that pain accounts for up to 78 percent of visits to the ER. Patmon, who added the doctoral degree in June to her master’s degree in nursing, says compared to younger age groups, older adults use the emergency department at a higher rate, utilize a disproportionate amount of resources, and experience significant disparities in pain management.

“My research examined three key areas: return visits to the ER, older adults and inadequate pain management,” Patmon said. “I wanted to see if there was a relationship between age, pain complaints and return visits. We discovered there were underscoring the need for additional research. I really want to create a better continuity of care between emergency departments and nursing homes.”

Patmon’s analysis concludes that people discharged with moderate to severe pain are more likely to return within 30 days than those who report no pain or mild pain. The Emergency Nurses Association recently selected Patmon to join a new group studying care of the geriatric patient in the ER. She credits her education at the School of Nursing with her approach to the study and how she looks at research more effectively now.

“I’m able to look at literature more critically, better understand how to approach data collection and present the information as well,” Patmon added. “I was surrounded by the most innovative and brilliant research minds and learned so much from all of them. I will always be thankful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their support and for the education I received.”