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Communication about opioid versus nonopioid analgesics in the emergency department

Danielle M. McCarthy, MD, MS, Kenzie A. Cameron, PhD, MPH, D. Mark Courtney, MD, MS, James G. Adams, MD, Kirsten G. Engel, MD


Objective: The Medication Communication Index (MCI) was used to compare counseling about opioids to nonopioid analgesics in the Emergency Department (ED) setting.

Design: Secondary analysis of prospectively collected audio recordings of ED patient visits.

Setting: Urban, academic medical center (>85,000 annual patient visits).

Participants: Patient participants aged >18 years with one of four low acuity diagnoses: ankle sprain, back pain, head injury, and laceration. ED clinician participants included resident and attending physicians, nursing staff, and ED technicians.

Main outcome measures: The MCI is a five-point index that assigns points for communicating the following: medication name (1), purpose (1), duration (1), adverse effects (1), number of tablets (0.5), and frequency of use (0.5). Recording transcripts were scored with the MCI, and total scores were compared between drug classes.

Results: The 41 patients received 56 prescriptions (27 nonopioids, 29 opioids). Nonopioid median MCI score was 3 and opioid score was 4.5 (p = 0.0008). Patients were counseled equally about name (nonopioid 100 percent, opioid 96.6 percent, p = 0.34) and purpose (88.9 percent, 89.7 percent, p = 0.93). However, patients receiving opioids were counseled more frequently about duration of use (nonopioid 40.7 percent, opioid 69.0 percent, p = 0.03) and adverse effects (18.5 percent, 93.1 percent, p < 0.001). In multivariable analysis, opioids (β = 0.54, p = 0.04), number of medications prescribed (β = 0.49, p = 0.05), and time spent in the ED (β = 0.007, p = 0.006) were all predictors of total MCI score.

Conclusions: The extent of counseling about analgesic medications in the ED differs by drug class. When counseling patients about all analgesic medications, providers should address not only medication name and purpose but also the less frequently covered topics of medication dosing, timing, and adverse effects.


opioid, prescription, communication, patient education

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