An Analysis of Primary Care Clinician Communication About Risk, Benefits, and Goals Related to Chronic Opioid Therapy

Elizabeth C. Danielson, Olena Mazurenko, Barbara T. Andraka-Christou, Julie DiIulio, Sarah M. Downs, Robert W. Hurley, Christopher A. Harle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background. Safe opioid prescribing and effective pain care are particularly important issues in the United States, where decades of widespread opioid prescribing have contributed to high rates of opioid use disorder. Because of the importance of clinician-patient communication in effective pain care and recent initiatives to curb rising opioid overdose deaths, this study sought to understand how clinicians and patients communicate about the risks, benefits, and goals of opioid therapy during primary care visits. Methods. We recruited clinicians and patients from six primary care clinics across three health systems in the Midwest United States. We audio-recorded 30 unique patients currently receiving opioids for chronic noncancer pain from 12 clinicians. We systematically analyzed transcribed, clinic visits to identify emergent themes. Results. Twenty of the 30 patient participants were females. Several patients had multiple pain diagnoses, with the most common diagnoses being osteoarthritis (n = 10), spondylosis (n = 6), and low back pain (n = 5). We identified five themes: 1) communication about individual-level and population-level risks, 2) communication about policies or clinical guidelines related to opioids, 3) communication about the limited effectiveness of opioids for chronic pain conditions, 4) communication about nonopioid therapies for chronic pain, and 5) communication about the goal of the opioid tapering. Conclusions. Clinicians discuss opioid-related risks in varying ways during patient visits, which may differentially affect patient experiences. Our findings may inform the development and use of more standardized approaches to discussing opioids during primary care visits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMDM Policy and Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • chronic pain
  • clinical practice guidelines
  • opioid prescribing
  • risk communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'An Analysis of Primary Care Clinician Communication About Risk, Benefits, and Goals Related to Chronic Opioid Therapy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this