Patients on long-term opioid therapy (LTOT) for pain have difficulty accessing primary care clinicians who are willing to prescribe opioids or provide multimodal pain treatment. Recent treatment guidelines and statewide policies aimed at reducing inappropriate prescribing may exacerbate these access issues, but further research is needed on this issue. This study aimed to understand barriers to primary care access and multimodal treatment for chronic pain from the perspective of multiple stakeholders.
Qualitative, semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with adult patients with chronic pain, primary care clinicians, and clinic office staff in Michigan. Interview questions covered stakeholder experiences with prescription opioids, opioid-related policies, and access to care for chronic pain. Interviews were coded using inductive and deductive methods for thematic analysis.
A total of 25 interviews were conducted (15 patients, 7 primary care clinicians, and 3 office staff). Barriers to treatment access were attributed to six themes: (1) reduced clinic willingness to manage prescribed opioids for new patients; (2) lack of time and reimbursement for quality opioid-related care; (3) paucity of multimodal care and coordination between providers; (4) fear of liability and use of new guidelines to justify not prescribing opioids; (5) delayed prescription receipt due to prior authorization and pharmacy issues; and (6) poor availability of effective non-opioid treatments.
Issues of policy, logistics, and clinic-level resources converge to disrupt treatment access for patients with chronic pain, as many clinics both do not offer multimodal pain care and are unwilling to prescribe LTOT. The resulting conceptual model can inform the development of policy interventions to help mitigate these access barriers.