Race and ethnicity are associated with disparities in pain management in children. While low English language proficiency is correlated with minority race/ethnicity in the United States, it is less frequently explored in the study of health disparities. We therefore investigated whether English language proficiency influenced pain management in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) in a cohort of children who underwent laparoscopic appendectomy at our pediatric hospital in San Francisco. Our primary exposure was English language proficiency, and our primary outcome was administration of any opioid medication in the PACU. Secondary outcomes included the amount of opioid administered in the PACU and whether any pain score was recorded during the patient’s recovery period. Statistical analysis included adjusting for demographic covariates including race in estimating the effect of language proficiency on these outcomes. In our cohort of 257 pediatric patients, 57 (22.2%) had low English proficiency (LEP). While LEP and English proficient (EP) patients received the same amount of opioid medication intraoperatively, in multivariable analysis, LEP patients had more than double the odds of receiving any opioid in the PACU (OR 2.45, 95% CI 1.22–4.92). LEP patients received more oral morphine equivalents (OME) than EP patients (1.64 OME/kg, CI 0.67–3.84), and they also had almost double the odds of having no pain score recorded during their PACU recovery period (OR 1.93, CI 0.79–4.73), although the precision of these estimates was limited by small sample size. Subgroup analysis showed that children over the age of 5 years, who were presumably more verbal and would therefore undergo verbal pain assessments, had over triple the odds of having no recorded pain score (OR 3.23, CI 1.48–7.06). In summary, English language proficiency may affect the management of children’s pain in the perioperative setting. The etiology of this language-related disparity is likely multifactorial and should be investigated further.
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