Contrasting tensions between patients and PCPs in chronic pain management: a qualitative study

Pain Med. 2013 Nov;14(11):1689-97. doi: 10.1111/pme.12172. Epub 2013 Jul 19.


Objective: With greater scrutiny on primary care providers' (PCPs) approaches to chronic pain management, more research is needed to clarify how concerns and uncertainties about opioid therapy affect the ways both patients with chronic pain and PCPs experience primary care interactions. The goal of this qualitative study was to develop a better understanding of the respective experiences, perceptions, and challenges that patients with chronic pain and PCPs face communicating with each other about pain management.

Design: Purposive and snowball sampling techniques were used to identify 14 PCPs. Patients who received ≥6 opioid prescriptions during the prior year were selected at random from the panels of participating physicians. Face-to-face in-depth interviews were conducted individually with patients and PCPs.

Setting: VISN 11 Roudebush VA Medical Center (RVAMC) in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Subjects: Fourteen PCPs and 26 patients with chronic pain participated.

Methods: An inductive thematic analysis was conducted separately with patient and PCP interview data, after which the emergent themes for both groups were compared and contrasted.

Results: Three notable tensions between patients and PCPs were discovered: 1) the role of discussing pain versus other primary care concerns, 2) acknowledgment of pain and the search for objective evidence, and 3) recognition of patient individuality and consideration of relationship history.

Conclusions: Competing demands of primary care practice, differing beliefs about pain, and uncertainties about the appropriate place of opioid therapy in chronic pain management likely contributed to the identified tensions. Several clinical communication strategies to help PCPs mitigate and manage pain-related tensions are discussed.

Keywords: Opioids; Pain Management; Primary Care; Standards of Care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Physicians, Primary Care
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Professional-Patient Relations*


  • Analgesics, Opioid