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Improving Access to Care for Patients Taking Opioids for Chronic Pain: Recommendations from a Modified Delphi Panel in Michigan.

Kehne A, Bernstein SJ, Thomas J, Bicket MC, Bohnert ASB, Madden EF, Powell VD, Lagisetty P. Improving Access to Care for Patients Taking Opioids for Chronic Pain: Recommendations from a Modified Delphi Panel in Michigan. Journal of pain research. 2023 Jul 10; 16(1):2321-2330.

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PURPOSE: About 5-8 million US patients take long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain. In the context of policies and guidelines instituted to reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing, abrupt discontinuations in opioid prescriptions have increased and many primary care clinics will not prescribe opioids for new patients, reducing access to care. This may result in uncontrolled pain and other negative outcomes, such as transition to illicit opioids. The objective of this study was to generate policy, intervention, and research recommendations to improve access to care for these patients. PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS: We conducted a RAND/UCLA Modified Delphi, consisting of workshops, background videos and reading materials, and moderated web-based panel discussions held September 2020-January 2021. The panel consisted of 24 individuals from across Michigan, identified via expert nomination and snowball recruitment, including clinical providers, health science researchers, state-level policymakers and regulators, care coordination experts, patient advocates, payor representatives, and community and public health experts. The panel proposed intervention, policy, and research recommendations, scored the feasibility, impact, and importance of each on a 9-point scale, and ranked all recommendations by implementation priority. RESULTS: The panel produced 11 final recommendations across three themes: reimbursement reform, provider education, and reducing racial inequities in care. The 3 reimbursement-focused recommendations were highest ranked (theme average = 4.2/11), including the two top-ranked recommendations: increasing reimbursement for time needed to treat complex chronic pain (ranked #1/11) and bundling payment for multimodal pain care (#2/11). Four provider education recommendations ranked slightly lower (theme average = 6.2/11) and included clarifying the spectrum of opioid dependence and training providers on multimodal treatments. Four recommendations addressed racial inequities (theme average = 7.2/11), such as standardizing pain management protocols to reduce treatment disparities. CONCLUSION: Panelists indicated reimbursement should incentivize traditionally lower-paying evidence-based pain care, but multiple strategies may be needed to meaningfully expand access.

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