The Journal of emergency medicine

A Randomized Controlled Trial of an Emergency Department Intervention for Patients with Chronic Noncancer Pain.

PMID 26423915


Emergency Departments (EDs) are beginning to notify their physicians of patients reporting chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) who frequent EDs, and are suggesting that the physicians not prescribe opioids to these patients. We hypothesized that this intervention would reduce both the number of opioids prescribed to these patients by their ED physicians and the number of these patients' return visits to the ED. We conducted a randomized controlled trial of this intervention in 13 electronically linked EDs. Patients eligible for the study were characterized by CNCP, lacked evidence of sickle cell anemia and suicide ideation, and made frequent (>10) visits to the EDs over a 12-month period. We randomly assigned 411 of these patients to either an intervention group or a control group. Our intervention comprised both an alert placed in eligible patients' medical files and letters sent to the patients and their community-based providers. The alert suggested that physicians decline requests for opioid analgesic prescriptions and instead refer these patients to community-based providers to manage their ongoing pain. During the 12 months after randomization, patients in the intervention and control groups averaged 11.9 and 16.6 return visits, and received prescriptions for opioids on 16% and 26% of those visits, respectively. Altogether, patients in the intervention group made 1033 fewer return visits to the EDs in the follow-up year than those in the control group. This intervention constitutes a promising practice that EDs should consider to reduce the number of visits made by frequent visitors with CNCP.