Barriers and facilitators to implementing changes in opioid prescribing in rural primary care clinics

J Clin Transl Sci. 2020 Jan 10;4(5):425-430. doi: 10.1017/cts.2019.448.


Background: Opioids are more commonly prescribed for chronic pain in rural settings in the USA, yet little is known about how the rural context influences efforts to improve opioid medication management.

Methods: The Six Building Blocks is an evidence-based program that guides primary care practices in making system-based improvements in managing patients using long-term opioid therapy. It was implemented at 6 rural and rural-serving organizations with 20 clinic locations over a 15-month period. To gain further insight about their experience with implementing the program, interviews and focus groups were conducted with staff and clinicians at the six organizations at the end of the 15 months and transcribed. Team members used a template analysis approach, a form of qualitative thematic analysis, to code these data for barriers, facilitators, and corresponding subcodes.

Results: Facilitators to making systems-based changes in opioid management within a rural practice context included a desire to help patients and their community, external pressures to make changes in opioid management, a desire to reduce workplace stress, external support for the clinic, supportive clinic leadership, and receptivity of patients. Barriers to making changes included competing demands on clinicians and staff, a culture of clinician autonomy, inadequate data systems, and a lack of patient resources in rural areas.

Discussion: The barriers and facilitators identified here point to potentially unique determinants of practice that should be considered when addressing opioid prescribing for chronic pain in the rural setting.

Keywords: Primary health care; chronic pain; implementation; opioids; rural health.