The System Is Broken: A Qualitative Assessment of Opioid Prescribing Practices After Spine Surgery

Nafisseh S. Warner, Dawn Finnie, David O. Warner, W. Michael Hooten, Karen F. Mauck, Julie L. Cunningham, Halena Gazelka, Mohamad Bydon, Paul M. Huddleston, Elizabeth B. Habermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To elucidate factors that influence opioid prescribing behaviors of key stakeholders after major spine surgery, with a focus on barriers to optimized prescribing. Methods: In-person semi-structured interviews were performed with 20 surgical and medical professionals (January 23, 2019 to June 11, 2019) at a large academic medical center, including resident physicians, midlevel providers, attending physicians, and clinical pharmacists. Interviews centered on perceptions of postoperative prescribing practices were coded and analyzed using a qualitative inductive approach. Results: Several unique themes emerged. First, wide interprovider variation exists in the perceived role of opioid prescribing guidelines. Second, there are important relationships between clinical experience, time constraints, and postoperative opioid prescribing. Third, opioid tapering is a major area of inconsistency. Fourth, there are serious challenges in managing analgesic expectations, particularly in those with chronic pain. Finally, there is currently no process to facilitate the hand-off or transition of opioid prescribing responsibility between surgical and primary care teams, which represents a major area for practice optimization efforts. Conclusion: Despite increased focus on postoperative opioid prescribing, there remain numerous areas for improvement. The development of tools and processes to address critical gaps in postoperative prescribing will be essential for our efforts to reduce long-term opioid use after major spine surgery and improve patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1906-1915
Number of pages10
JournalMayo Clinic proceedings
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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