Proper Use of Non-Opioid Alternatives Can Effectively Manage Post-Surgical Pain

“Patient satisfaction and patient-reported outcomes, like quality of life, were similar for patients who did and did not receive opioids after surgery,” reports Sara Heath, of Patient Engagement HIT, on a new study evaluating post-surgical pain management. Her recent analysis cites research examining data from a Michigan-wide registry documenting patient care practices after surgical procedures that took place in 2019. Although the majority of post-operative study participants received opioid prescriptions, the researchers say there were no significant differences in clinical outcomes or overall experiences between those who received narcotics and those treated with over-the-counter NSAIDs, like ibuprofen.

Heath explains the data demonstrates nearly equal patient satisfaction scores, “suggesting that an opioid is not necessarily essential to pain management.” This, notes Heath, is especially good news for physicians tasked with curbing opioid prescriptions, “while still humanely managing patient pain.” Lead study author Mark Bicket, of the Michigan Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network, says, based on the results, there is clearly “no difference in pain, major adverse events or patient-centered outcomes when opioids aren’t prescribed.” He advises prescribers to strongly consider this evidence given the considerable risk of opioid addiction.

Heath reminds providers looking to replace narcotics with over-the-counter NSAIDs “to engage in empathic patient-provider communication before the surgery takes place,” practice shared decision-making, set expectations about pain management and educate patients about non-opioid alternatives.

As part of MLMIC’s ongoing efforts to provide information to our policyholders on strategies that address opioid use, we offer a number of resources, including Risk Management Tips that can be beneficial in formulating a plan and documenting the care and treatment of these complex patients: