Lessons Learned in Implementing a Chronic Opioid Therapy Management System

J Patient Saf. 2022 Dec 1;18(8):e1142-e1149. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000001039. Epub 2022 May 27.


Objectives: Opioid misuse has resulted in significant morbidity and mortality in the United States, and safer opioid use represents an important challenge in the primary care setting. This article describes a research collaborative of health service researchers, systems engineers, and clinicians seeking to improve processes for safer chronic opioid therapy management in an academic primary care center. We present implementation results and lessons learned along with an intervention toolkit that others may consider using within their organization.

Methods: Using iterative improvement lifecycles and systems engineering principles, we developed a risk-based workflow model for patients on chronic opioids. Two key safe opioid use process metrics-percent of patients with recent opioid treatment agreements and urine drug tests-were identified, and processes to improve these measures were designed, tested, and implemented. Focus groups were conducted after the conclusion of implementation, with barriers and lessons learned identified via thematic analysis.

Results: Initial surveys revealed a lack of knowledge regarding resources available to patients and prescribers in the primary care clinic. In addition, 18 clinicians (69%) reported largely "inheriting" (rather than initiating) their chronic opioid therapy patients. We tracked 68 patients over a 4-year period. Although process measures improved, full adherence was not achieved for the entire population. Barriers included team structure, the evolving opioid environment, and surveillance challenges, along with disruptions resulting from the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Conclusions: Safe primary care opioid prescribing requires ongoing monitoring and management in a complex environment. The application of a risk-based approach is possible but requires adaptability and redundancies to be reliable.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • COVID-19*
  • Chronic Pain* / chemically induced
  • Chronic Pain* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid