Even patients who have taken high doses of opioid painkillers for long periods of time aren’t unhappy with their care when their doctor lowers their dose, new research suggests.
The study included nearly 2,500 patients with chronic pain who had been on high doses of opioids for at least six straight months. The researchers compared patient satisfaction scores between those whose opioid dose was reduced to the recommended level for at least 30 days and those who stayed on high doses.
The study found that 86 percent of patients in the reduced-dose group remained satisfied with their care, and that the likelihood of a favorable satisfaction rating was higher when opioid doses were reduced by a patient’s regular primary care doctor rather than another doctor.
“Physicians are often concerned they will receive lower satisfaction scores if they reduce opioids for patients who are accustomed to high opioid doses to manage chronic pain,” said study author Dr. Adam Sharp, from Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California department of research & evaluation.
“This study showed that following current recommendations and reducing opioids for chronic pain did not result in lower satisfaction scores,” he added in a Kaiser Permanente news release.
“If you are a physician, you should do the right thing and you should feel comfortable you will not receive lower patient satisfaction scores. Our results should reassure physicians and help promote use of recommended guidelines,” Sharp said.
“Even if you are in the small subset of physicians reducing opioids for people who are not your regular patients, there is still only a small difference in overall patient satisfaction,” he noted.
Sharp said high doses of opioids for chronic pain are more likely to hurt than benefit patients, and that patients “should be reassured that your physician wants to follow guidelines designed to improve your health and well-being.”
So, he concluded, “At times, your doctor may be helping you most by prescribing less.”
The findings were published June 8 in The American Journal of Managed Care.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about prescription opioids.