We aimed to better understand variation in opioid prescribing practices by investigating physician factors at one academic suburban Emergency Department (ED).
We retrospectively reviewed the electronic medical records of all patients given opioid prescriptions in the Stanford Health Care ED from 2009 to 2018. We described the variation in opioid prescriptions over time from 2009 to 2018, then dove deeper into a single year (July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018). We described the number and type of opioid prescriptions at discharge and variation in attending physician opioid prescribing patterns using independent t-tests and a Fischer’s exact test.
From 2009 to 2018, 657,037 patient visits occurred; 92,612 (14.1%) opioid prescriptions were written. Opioid prescriptions increased from 2009, peaked in 2015, then decreased. Individual providers wrote opioid prescriptions for 1 to 17% of their discharged patients. There was no significant difference in opioid prescribing based on provider gender (p = 0.456), fellow or attending status (p = 0.390), residency completed at Stanford Hospital (p = 0.593), residency completed within California (p = 0.493), or residency completed after 2010 (p = 0.589). Of the 371 providers who wrote opioid prescriptions from 2009 through 2018, 120 wrote prescriptions for patients who had already received at least three opioid prescriptions in the same year from the same department.
This study could inform policymakers by describing patterns of variation in opioid prescribing over time and between providers. Although we did see significant differences in prescribing patterns from one provider to the next, those were not explained by the factors we examined. Further studies could investigate factors such as provider experience with pain and addiction, bias regarding particular pathologies, and concern around patient satisfaction scores.

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