Introduction: Addressing pain is a crucial aspect of emergency medicine. Prescription opioids are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain in the emergency department (ED); unfortunately, prescribing practices are variable. High variability of opioid prescribing decisions suggests a lack of consensus and an opportunity to improve care. This quality improvement (QI) initiative aimed to reduce variability in ED opioid analgesic prescribing.
Methods: We evaluated the impact of a three-part QI initiative on ED opioid prescribing by physicians at seven sites. Stage 1: Retrospective baseline period (nine months). Stage 2: Physicians were informed that opioid prescribing information would be prospectively collected and feedback on their prescribing and that of the group would be shared at the end of the stage (three months). Stage 3: After physicians received their individual opioid prescribing data with blinded comparison to the group means (from Stage 2) they were informed that individual prescribing data would be unblinded and shared with the group after three months. The primary outcome was variability of the standard error of the mean and standard deviation of the opioid prescribing rate (defined as number of patients discharged with an opioid divided by total number of discharges for each provider). Secondary observations included mean quantity of pills per opioid prescription, and overall frequency of opioid prescribing.
Results: The study group included 47 physicians with 149,884 ED patient encounters. The variability in prescribing decreased through each stage of the initiative as represented by the distributions for the opioid prescribing rate: Stage 1 mean 20%; Stage 2 mean 13% (46% reduction, p<0.01), and Stage 3 mean 8% (60% reduction, p<0.01). The mean quantity of pills prescribed per prescription was 16 pills in Stage 1, 14 pills in Stage 2 (18% reduction, p<0.01), and 13 pills in Stage 3 (18% reduction, p<0.01). The group mean prescribing rate also decreased through each stage: 20% in Stage 1, 13% in Stage 2 (46% reduction, p<0.01), and 8% in Stage 3 (60% reduction, p<0.01).
Conclusion: ED physician opioid prescribing variability can be decreased through the systematic application of sharing of peer prescribing rates and prescriber specific normative feedback.