Communication between pharmacists and primary care physicians in the midst of a U.S. opioid crisis

Geoffrey M. Curran, Patricia R. Freeman, Bradley C. Martin, Benjamin S. Teeter, Karen L. Drummond, Katharine Bradley, Mary M. Thannisch, Cynthia L. Mosley, Nancy Schoenberg, Mark Edlund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Effective communication between prescribers of opioids and community pharmacists can contribute to maximizing appropriate pain management and reducing opioid misuse and diversion. While much of the education and training available on reducing opioid misuse and diversion stresses the importance of interprofessional communication between prescribers and pharmacists, few studies have been explored those communication patterns directly. Objective: The objectives of this manuscript are to present and explore key emergent themes from a qualitative study around the nature, frequency, and content of communication between primary care physicians (PCPs) and pharmacists focusing on opioids. Methods: Interviews were conducted with 48 PCPs and 60 community pharmacists across four states in the U.S.: Washington, Idaho, Kentucky and Arkansas. Results: Convergent results from both samples indicated that the content of communication usually centers on questions of dosing, timing of the prescription, and/or evidence of potential misuse/diversion. When communication was focused on relaying information about a patient and/or clarifying questions around the prescription, it appeared positive for both parties. Results also indicated that close physical proximity between PCPs and dispensing pharmacists contributed to more positive and useful communication, especially when the clinics and pharmacies were part of the same healthcare system. Many pharmacists reported hesitancy in “questioning” a physician's judgement, which appeared related to commonly held beliefs of both pharmacists and physicians about the respective roles of each in providing patient care. Pharmacists reported difficulty in reaching PCPs for discussion, while PCPs reported it was easy to reach pharmacists. Conclusions: Physician and pharmacist communication around opioids can be mutually beneficial. When prescribers and pharmacists are co-located, higher levels of trust and teamwork are reported, which in turn seems to be related to more open and positive communication. Additional research is needed to identify interventions to increase mutually-valued communication that improves the quality of decision-making around opioids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)974-985
Number of pages12
JournalResearch in Social and Administrative Pharmacy
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health [ R01-DA-034627 ].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Interprofessional communication
  • Opioids
  • Qualitative research, United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacy
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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