Pain clinic definitions in the medical literature and U.S. state laws: An integrative systematic review and comparison

Barbara Andraka-Christou, Joshua B. Rager, Brittany Brown-Podgorski, Ross D. Silverman, Dennis P. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: In response to widespread opioid misuse, ten U.S. states have implemented regulations for facilities that primarily manage and treat chronic pain, called "pain clinics." Whether a clinic falls into a state's pain clinic definition determines the extent to which it is subject to oversight. It is unclear whether state pain clinic definitions model those found in the medical literature, and potential differences lead to discrepancies between scientific and professionally guided advice found in the medical literature and actual pain clinic practice. Identifying discrepancies could assist states to design laws that are more compatible with best practices suggested in the medical literature. Methods: We conducted an integrative systematic review to create a taxonomy of pain clinic definitions using academic medical literature. We then identified existing U.S. state pain clinic statutes and regulations and compared the developed taxonomy using a content analysis approach to understand the extent to which medical literature definitions are reflected in state policy. Results: In the medical literature, we identified eight categories of pain clinic definitions: 1) patient case mix; 2) single-modality treatment; 3) multidisciplinary treatment; 4) interdisciplinary treatment; 5) provider supervision; 6) provider composition; 7) marketing; and 8) outcome. We identified ten states with pain clinic laws. State laws primarily include the following definitional categories: patient case mix; single-modality treatment, and marketing. Some definitional categories commonly found in the medical literature, such as multidisciplinary treatment and interdisciplinary treatment, rarely appear in state law definitions. Conclusions: This is the first study to our knowledge to develop a taxonomy of pain clinic definitions and to identify differences between pain clinic definitions in U.S. state law and medical literature. Future work should explore the impact of different legal pain clinic definitions on provider decision-making and state-level health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalSubstance Abuse: Treatment, Prevention, and Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 22 2018


  • Content analysis
  • Integrative review
  • Pain clinic
  • Pain treatment, opioid, state policy
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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