Variation between Physicians and Mid-level Providers in Opioid Treatment for Musculoskeletal Pain in the Emergency Department

Stephen H. Thomas, Shannon Mumma, Amanda Satterwhite, Tyler Haas, Annette O. Arthur, Knox H. Todd, Sharon Mace, Deborah B. Diercks, Charles V. Pollack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background Effective, appropriate, and safe opioid analgesia administration in the Emergency Department (ED) is a complex issue, with risks of both over- and underutilization of medications. Objective To assess for possible association between practitioner status (physician [MD] vs. mid-level provider [MLP]) and use of opioids for in-ED treatment of musculoskeletal pain (MSP). Methods This was a secondary, hypothesis-generating analysis of a subset of subjects who had ED analgesia noted as part of entry into a prospective registry trial of outpatient analgesia. The study was conducted at 12 U.S. academic EDs, 10 of which utilized MLPs. Patients were enrolled as a convenience sample from September 2012 through February 2014. Study patients were adults (>17 years of age) with acute MSP and eligibility for both nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and opioids at ED discharge. The intervention of interest was whether patients received opioid therapy in the ED prior to discharge. Results MDs were significantly more likely to order opioids than MLPs for ED patients with MSP. The association between MD/MLP status and likelihood of treatment with opioids was similar in both classical logistic regression (odds ratio [OR] 2.3, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1-4.5, p = 0.019) and in propensity-adjusted modeling (OR 2.1, 95% CI 1.0-4.5, p = 0.049). Conclusions In preliminary analysis, MD/MLP status was significantly associated with likelihood of provider treatment of MSP with opioids. A follow-up study is warranted to confirm the results of this hypothesis-testing analysis and to inform efforts toward consistency in opioid therapy in the ED.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)415-423
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2015


  • analgesia
  • mid-level providers
  • musculoskeletal pain
  • opioids
  • physicians

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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