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Trust and Distrust in Opioid Decision-Making: A Qualitative Assessment of Patient-Doctor Relationship

Published:December 13, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhsa.2021.10.013

      Purpose

      Surgeons often prescribe opioid analgesics for pain management after surgery. However, we understand little about how patients perceive opioid prescribing and make decisions to use opioids for postoperative pain management. In this study, we aimed to gain an understanding of patients’ decision-making process on postoperative opioid use.

      Methods

      We conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 adult patients undergoing elective surgery at our institution. The interviews were content-coded for thematic analysis. We used trust in the medical setting as a conceptual framework to interpret and find the inherent theory in the data.

      Results

      We found that participants based their opioid decisions on their trust or distrust toward various elements of their postoperative pain management. Participants believed that the surgeons “know,” thereby, reinforcing their trust in surgeons’ postoperative opioid prescribing to be in the participants’ best interest. Moreover, the positive reputation of the institution strengthened the participants’ trust. However, participants conveyed nuanced trust because of their distrust toward the opioid medications themselves, which were viewed as “suspicious,” and the pharmaceutical companies, that were “despised.” Despite this distrust, participants had confidence in their inherent ability to protect themselves from opioid use disorders.

      Conclusions

      Understanding how patients perceive and form decisions on postoperative opioid use based on their trust and distrust toward various factors involved in their care highlights the importance of the patient-doctor relationship and building trust to effectively address postoperative pain and reduce opioid-related harms.

      Clinical relevance

      Through a strengthened therapeutic alliance between patients and surgeons, we can improve our strategies to overcome the ongoing opioid epidemic through patient-centered approaches.

      Key words

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