A mixed methods study of patient-provider communication about opioid analgesics

Helen Kinsman Hughes, Philip Todd Korthuis, Somnath Saha, Susan Eggly, Victoria Sharp, Jonathan Cohn, Richard Moore, Mary Catherine Beach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Objective: To describe patient-provider communication about opioid pain medicine and explore how these discussions affect provider attitudes toward patients. Methods: We audio-recorded 45 HIV providers and 423 patients in routine outpatient encounters at four sites across the country. Providers completed post-visit questionnaires assessing their attitudes toward patients. We identified discussions about opioid pain management and analyzed them qualitatively. We used logistic regression to assess the association between opioid discussion and providers' attitudes toward patients. Results: 48 encounters (11% of the total sample) contained substantive discussion of opioid-related pain management. Most conversations were initiated by patients (n = 28, 58%) and ended by the providers (n = 36, 75%). Twelve encounters (25%) contained dialog suggesting a difference of opinion or conflict. Providers more often agreed than disagreed to give the prescription (50% vs. 23%), sometimes reluctantly; in 27% (n = 13) of encounters, no decision was made. Fewer than half of providers (n = 20, 42%) acknowledged the patient's experience of pain. Providers had a lower odds of positive regard for the patient (adjusted OR = 0.51, 95% CI: 0.27-0.95) when opioids were discussed. Conclusions: Pain management discussions are common in routine outpatient HIV encounters and providers may regard patients less favorably if opioids are discussed during visits. The sometimes-adversarial nature of these discussions may negatively affect provider attitudes toward patients. Practice implications: Empathy and pain acknowledgment are tools that clinicians can use to facilitate productive discussions of pain management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-461
Number of pages9
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015


  • Communication
  • Mixed methods
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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