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Opioid Summit Demonstrates How Learning Systems Can Improve Care

Group Health’s National Summit on Opioid Safety, held last week in Seattle, was a great example of a learning health care system sharing ways to improve patient safety and quality of care.  The conference was organized by Group Health Research Institute Senior Investigator Michael Von Korff, ScD, and Group Health physician Michelle Seelig, MD—with support from the Group Health Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Washington (UW) Department of Family Medicine and Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

The Summit highlighted ways that research scientists and clinicians can work together to make care safer and more effective for patients with chronic pain. The science is changing physicians’ prescribing practices, and clinicians are helping shape how necessary changes are carried out in practice.

More than 100 experts attended the two-day gathering to address problems caused by long-term use of prescription opioids such as Oxycontin and Vicodin for chronic noncancer pain. Attendees included researchers, health care leaders, and clinicians from Group Health, UW, and The Everett Clinic—as well as national and international participants from as far away as Australia.

Research here at Group Health and elsewhere has shown that patients who stay on opioid therapy for months or years are at risk of falling, becoming addicted, and experiencing fatal overdose. The problem of overuse has reached epidemic levels; not including patients with cancer and those in end-of-life care, about 3 percent of U.S. adults are using prescription opioids long term.

Recognizing that the problem can’t be solved by individual clinicians alone, Summit speakers shared new approaches some health systems are using—such as Group Health’s opioid risk mitigation initiative.  The initiative focuses on developing safe and effective care-management plans for each individual being treated with opioids for chronic pain.

The experts who presented at the Summit are now drafting principles to encourage more selective and cautious use of opioid in managing chronic pain.  Summit speakers urged proactive, preventive measures focusing on individual patients’ goals, risks, and lifestyles—including focusing on helping patients return to work and resuming rewarding life activities, rather than a narrow focus on pain reduction alone.  They called for a “cultural transformation” in medicine that helps patients learn to manage and accept chronic pain, while discouraging over-reliance on pain medications.

Cultural transformation may sound like a tall order, but as efforts to improve care for chronic pain at Group Health have shown, researchers and physicians working together can develop innovations that help patients in diverse settings regionally, nationally, and internationally.

I’ve included some presentations from the conference,  and for more materials go here.



Presented by Michael Von Korff ScD, senior investigator for Group Health Research Institute

Presentation by Roger Chou, MD, associate professor of medicine for Oregon Health & Science University
and Director of Pacific Northwest Evidence-based Practice Center.


Presentation by Jane C. Ballantyne, MD FRCA, with the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at UW Medicine.


Presentation by, Grant Scull MD, associate director for Group Health Family Medicine Residency


Presentation by Erin E. Krebs, MD, MPH, Minneapolis VA Health Care System and University of Minnesota Medical School


Presentation by Andrew Kolodny, M.D., chair, department of Psychiatry Maimonides Medical Center Brooklyn, New York


Presentation by Gary M. Franklin, MD, MPH, research professor for the Departments of Environmental Health, Neurology, and Health Services University of Washington

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Eric B. Larson

Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, MACP is the executive director of Group Health Research Institute and vice president for research at Group Health Cooperative. Dr. Larson strives to keep GHRI on the cutting edge of practical health research. He has provided leadership on several initiatives, including evaluation of the Medical Home model and strengthening the Institute’s partnership with the Group Health care-delivery system, enhancing the organization’s ability to serve Group Health members and the nation as a learning health care system.

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