Dear Colleague,

 Enclosed is Policy and Procedure on Conscious Sedation/Analgesia for Adults, which you requested. It was developed by reviewing the literature on conscious sedation and analgesia, professional statements, and policies and procedures from a number of institutions across the country. It is intended to be used as a guideline for developing a policy and procedure that will help to insure safe and effective administration and monitoring of conscious sedation/analgesia in your institution. It may be duplicated for educational or clinical purposes.

A multidisciplinary approach is the best approach to use in developing a policy and procedure on conscious sedation/analgesia for your institution. Utilizing the expertise of the various members of the health care team facilitates the process of delineating roles and responsibilities, defining appropriate use of drugs, and outlining monitoring parameters. Important disciplines to include are nursing, pharmacy, and medicine. It is especially important to include a trained anesthesia provider, i.e., an anesthesiologist or a certified registered nurse anesthetist, because they are experts in the administration and monitoring of high doses of analgesics and sedatives. The nursing and medical education departments should participate in the development of programs to validate competencies of the health care team members who will administer and monitor conscious sedation/analgesia. Finally, the quality assurance/ improvement department should monitor and evaluate the on-going safety and effectiveness of conscious sedation/analgesia in your institution.


Chris Pasero

Policy and Procedure on Conscious Sedation/Analgesia for Adults

from Margo McCaffery and Chris Pasero


may be duplicated for clinical or educational purposes


Note: It is advisable to contact the state board of nursing to determine the scope of practice for members of the nursing staff prior to defining their roles in administering and monitoring conscious sedation/analgesia in your institution. The following policy and procedure is based on the assumption that the state board of nursing/nurse practice act approves the nurse’s role as described.


1. Conscious sedation/analgesia will be defined as:

Combinations of pharmacological agents administered by one or more routes to produce a minimally depressed level of consciousness and satisfactory analgesia while retaining the ability to independently and continuously maintain an airway and respond to physical stimulation and verbal commands (ANA, 1991).

2. Optimal conscious sedation/analgesia is achieved when the patient:

  • maintains consciousness
  • independently maintains his/her airway
  • retains protective reflexes (swallow and gag)
  • responds to physical and verbal commands
  • is not anxious or afraid
  • experiences acceptable pain relief
  • has minimal changes in vital signs
  • is cooperative during the procedure
  • has mild amnesia for the procedure
  • recovers to preprocedure status safely and promptly

3. Almost all therapeutic and diagnostic procedures performed will require analgesia; some will require both sedation and analgesia; a few will require sedation only.

Prior to a procedure to insure clear communication, the physician will discuss with other team members the plan to administer or not to administer analgesic and/or sedative agents. The decision to provide analgesia during a procedure will be based on the knowledge of the likelihood that the procedure is painful. If there is any question whether or not pain is associated with the procedure, the health care team will assume that it is. Analgesic agents will be added if it becomes apparent that a procedure thought not to be associated with pain is causing pain. The decision to add sedation may vary depending on the patient’s age, condition, and anxiety level. For example, chest tube removal and lumbar puncture may require sedation in addition to analgesia for some patients. Previous experience with a painful procedure may contribute to high or low levels of anxiety about the procedure. For example, a previous painful and frightening experience with lumbar puncture may indicate the need for sedation, whereas a previous experience with minimal discomfort during a lumbar puncture, may negate the need for sedation. The following is a list of procedures for which conscious sedation/analgesia may be warranted. This list is by no means exhaustive.

4. Pain will be assessed using the following indicators:

5. Level of sedation will be assessed using the following sedation scale:

S = Sleep, easy to arouse

1 = Awake and alert

2 = Slightly drowsy, easily aroused

3 = Frequently drowsy, arousable, drifts off to sleep during conversation

4 = Somnolent, minimal or no response to physical stimulation

6. All patients receiving conscious sedation/analgesia will have intravenous access.

7. Emergency equipment and medications, including a fully stocked crash cart with difibrillator, will be immediately available in ever location where conscious sedation/analgesia is administered.

8. Informed consent is required prior to administering conscious sedation/analgesia. The  responsible physician will provide the patient with all information considered necessary for obtaining informed consent. The registered nurse (RN) will reinforce the physician’s explanation prior to and during conscious sedation/analgesia.

9. Only RNs who are Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) trained and have validated current competency in the administration and monitoring of conscious sedation/analgesia will administer and monitor conscious sedation/analgesia. (See "Nursing Competency" p. 12.) The RN’s role includes the following:

10. A one-to-one RN to patient ratio will be maintained during the administration of conscious sedation/analgesia. This means that the nurse will have no other responsibilities during the procedure and will not leave the patient unattended or engage in tasks that will compromise continuous monitoring.

11. The responsible physician will be present when conscious sedation/analgesia is initiated and throughout its administration.

12. If the amount of sedation required is likely to produce deep sedation, rendering the patient unable to respond to physical or verbal stimulation and independently maintain an airway, it must be administered and monitored by a trained anesthesia provider, i.e., certified registered nurse anesthetist or anesthesiologist.

13. It is recommended that a trained anesthesia provider be consulted prior to administering conscious sedation/analgesia to patients with any of the conditions or characteristics listed below. To insure patient safety, in some of these cases, it may be wise to ask a trained anesthesia provider to administer the conscious sedation/analgesia or to administer it in a location where anesthesia providers are immediately accessible.

14. A qualified professional capable of managing the complications associated with conscious sedation/analgesia will remain on site until the patient who has received conscious sedation/analgesia meets the established discharge criteria. (See #15 this section.)

15. Patients who have received conscious sedation/analgesia may be discharged 60 minutes after the last dose of sedative or analgesic drug is administered if all of the established discharge criteria are met. (If a reversal agent is administered, enough time must elapse to insure an adverse reaction will not reoccur.) Variations in these criteria may be warranted and must be approved in writing by the responsible physician.

Routes of Administration

The intravenous (IV) route is preferred for conscious sedation/analgesia because it has a fast onset of action and absorption is more predictable than it is by the intramuscular, subcutaneous, oral, and rectal routes. It is also easier to titrate doses of IV drugs. Local anesthetics by various routes may be indicated. Oral premedication and preemptive analgesics may also be administered.

Pharmacological Agents

The mu-agonist opioids, such as morphine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and meperidine, are administrated most commonly for procedural pain management because they produce the most reliable pain control. Agonist-antagonists, such as nalbuphine and butorphanol, may be occasionally used, but because they have an analgesic ceiling, they are less suitable for procedural pain than the mu-agonist opioids.

Prior to administering opioids, the patient’s history of drug use will be determined. Chemically dependent patients usually require higher than recommended doses of opioids. There is no analgesic ceiling with the mu-agonist opioids so doses should be adjusted to meet patients’ individual requirements. Agonist-antagonist opioids will not be used in patients who have been receiving opioids prior to a procedure because of their potential to reverse analgesia and precipitate a withdrawal syndrome.

Response to pharmacological agents is highly individual; therefore, all pharmacological agents will be titrated according to the patient’s response. The adage "start low and go slow" is applicable. Large bolus doses will be avoided and once desirable levels of analgesia and sedation are achieved, doses will be steadily controlled to maintain those levels.

When excessive sedation is detected during a procedure and an opioid is the only agent being administered, the opioid dose must be decreased. Combining drugs, such as benzodiazepines and opioids, may potentiate adverse effects, such as sedation and respiratory depression; therefor, when they are combined, initial doses of both should be decreased. When a benzodiazepine and an opioid are combined and excessive sedation occurs during a procedure, it is recommended that the dose of the benzodiazepine be decreased before decreasing the dose of the opioid. (Since benzodiazepines have no analgesic properties, decreasing the dose will not affect pain control. However, if the opioid dose is decreased first, pain control could be lost. Since opioids provide sedation as well as analgesia, a desirable level of sedation and pain control can often be achieved in this type of situation by simply decreasing the benzodiazepine dose while maintaining the opioid dose.)

The doses listed below are intended merely as reference points:

1. Anesthetic Agents

2. Opioids

3. Benzodiazepines: diminish skeletal muscle spasm, reduce anxiety, and produce amnesia at high doses but lack analgesic properties for acute tissue injury. If pain is associated with the procedure or condition, an analgesic must be added (AHCPR 1992).

4. Reversal Agents


Procedure (Preparation Phase)

1. Insure all supplies and equipment to be used for the administration and monitoring of conscious sedation/analgesia and emergency management are fully stocked and functional.

2. Review patient’s history and physical information to determine current condition; chief complaint; reason for conscious sedation/analgesia; and any risk factors of contraindications to receiving conscious sedation/analgesia.

3. Determine current medications patient is taking; existence of allergies; history of drug use or abuse, including tobacco and alcohol; adverse experience with anesthesia, sedatives, or analgesics; and last oral intake.

4. Reinforce physician’s explanations of procedure to patient and family. Patient education includes discussing the following important points:

-Post procedure sensations patient may experience

-Resumption of medications taken prior to procedure

-Review of new prescriptions

-Wound care

-Diet and activity restrictions, including a warning that the patient is not to drive or operate dangerous machinery for at least 24 hours.

-Follow up care

5. If conscious sedation/analgesia is performed in the outpatient setting, insure that a responsible person is available to drive the patient home after recovery and that a responsible person will remain with the patient the length of two half-lives of the drugs administered for conscious sedation/analgesia (AHCPR 1992).

6. Insure written consent is obtained.

7. Attach monitoring equipment to patient (ECG, BP, oximetry).

8. Obtain and document baseline data on patient: temperature; heart rate and rhythm; respiratory status, including oxygen requirements, depth of respirations, breath sounds, and oxygen saturation; blood pressure; skin condition; level of sedation and mental status; ability to ambulate; weakness and/or sensory loss in extremities (if indicated); and description and intensity of any current painful condition.

9. Insert IV line and regulate continuous infusion at a keep-open rate.

10. Prepare all drugs to be administered, including readying reversal agents for possible administration.

Procedure (Administration Phase)

1. Administer pharmacological agents under direct supervision of responsible physician. Begin administration of sedative or analgesic drugs only when responsible physician is present.

2. Continuously observe and document patient responses to conscious sedation/analgesia:

Note: Determining some of the monitoring parameters as frequently as outlined above may not be possible during some procedures. For example, if the purpose of conscious sedation/analgesia is to help the patient remain as still as possible, frequent inflation of the BP cuff may stimulate the patient and prove to be counterproductive. In these cases, close observation and monitoring of other parameters is invaluable.

3. Provide reassurance and emotional support throughout the procedure.

4. Inform the physician immediately of adverse response or any significant changes in baseline parameters.

5. Maintain continuous IV access.

6. Perform emergency management procedures if necessary.

Procedure (Recovery Phase)

1. Continue mechanical monitoring: ECG, BP, oxygen saturation.

2. Assess and document vital signs, skin condition, level of sedation and mental status, and pain every 15 minutes for at least 60 minutes after the last sedative or analgesic drug dose is given and until discharge criteria is met.

3. Maintain IV access for at least 60 minutes after last sedative and analgesic drug dose is given and until discharge criteria are met.

4. Review discharge instructions.

Nursing Competency

1. RNs will meet the following requirements prior to administering and monitoring conscious sedation/analgesia:

2. Recommended components of the conscious sedation/analgesia learning module include but are not limited to the following:


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McCaffery and Pasero 1996; may be duplicated for clinical or education purposes from McCaffery M and Pasero C: PAIN:CLINICAL MANUAL.