Increasing system-wide implementation of opioid prescribing guidelines in primary care: findings from a non-randomized stepped-wedge quality improvement project

Aleksandra E. Zgierska, James M. Robinson, Robert P. Lennon, Paul D. Smith, Kate Nisbet, Mary W. Ales, Deanne Boss, Wen Jan Tuan, Regina M. Vidaver, David L. Hahn

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10 Scopus citations


Background: Clinician utilization of practice guidelines can reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing and harm in chronic non-cancer pain; yet, implementation of “opioid guidelines” is subpar. We hypothesized that a multi-component quality improvement (QI) augmentation of “routine” system-level implementation efforts would increase clinician adherence to the opioid guideline-driven policy recommendations. Methods: Opioid policy was implemented system-wide in 26 primary care clinics. A convenience sample of 9 clinics received the QI augmentation (one-hour academic detailing; 2 online educational modules; 4–6 monthly one-hour practice facilitation sessions) in this non-randomized stepped-wedge QI project. The QI participants were volunteer clinic staff. The target patient population was adults with chronic non-cancer pain treated with long-term opioids. The outcomes included the clinic-level percentage of target patients with a current treatment agreement (primary outcome), rates of opioid-benzodiazepine co-prescribing, urine drug testing, depression and opioid misuse risk screening, and prescription drug monitoring database check; additional measures included daily morphine-equivalent dose (MED), and the percentages of all target patients and patients prescribed ≥90 mg/day MED. T-test, mixed-regression and stepped-wedge-based analyses evaluated the QI impact, with significance and effect size assessed with two-tailed p < 0.05, 95% confidence intervals and/or Cohen’s d. Results: Two-hundred-fifteen QI participants, a subset of clinical staff, received at least one QI component; 1255 patients in the QI and 1632 patients in the 17 comparison clinics were prescribed long-term opioids. At baseline, more QI than comparison clinic patients were screened for depression (8.1% vs 1.1%, p = 0.019) and prescribed ≥90 mg/day MED (23.0% vs 15.5%, p = 0.038). The stepped-wedge analysis did not show statistically significant changes in outcomes in the QI clinics, when accounting for the comparison clinics’ trends. The Cohen’s d values favored the QI clinics in all outcomes except opioid-benzodiazepine co-prescribing. Subgroup analysis showed that patients prescribed ≥90 mg/day MED in the QI compared to comparison clinics improved urine drug screening rates (38.8% vs 19.1%, p = 0.02), but not other outcomes (p ≥ 0.05). Conclusions: Augmenting routine policy implementation with targeted QI intervention, delivered to volunteer clinic staff, did not additionally improve clinic-level, opioid guideline-concordant care metrics. However, the observed effect sizes suggested this approach may be effective, especially in higher-risk patients, if broadly implemented. Trial registration: Not applicable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number245
JournalBMC Family Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Family Practice


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