Provider Bias in prescribing opioid analgesics: a study of electronic medical Records at a Hospital Emergency Department.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Physicians do not prescribe opioid analgesics for pain treatment equally across groups, and such disparities may pose significant public health concerns. Although research suggests that institutional constraints and cultural stereotypes influence doctors' treatment of pain, prior quantitative evidence is mixed. The objective of this secondary analysis is therefore to clarify which institutional constraints and patient demographics bias provider prescribing of opioid analgesics.


We used electronic medical record data from an emergency department of a large U.S hospital during years 2008-2014. We ran multi-level logistic regression models to estimate factors associated with providing an opioid prescription during a given visit while controlling for ICD-9 diagnosis codes and between-patient heterogeneity.


A total of 180,829 patient visits for 63,513 unique patients were recorded during the period of analysis. Overall, providers were significantly less likely to prescribe opioids to the same individual patient when the visit occurred during higher rates of emergency department crowding, later times of day, earlier in the week, later years in our sample, and when the patient had received fewer previous opioid prescriptions. Across all patients, providers were significantly more likely to prescribe opioids to patients who were middle-aged, white, and married. We found no bias towards women and no interaction effects between race and crowding or between race and sex.


Providers tend to prescribe fewer opioids during constrained diagnostic situations and undertreat pain for patients from high-risk and marginalized demographic groups. Potential harms resulting from previous treatment decisions may accumulate by informing future treatment decisions.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Keister, LA; Stecher, C; Aronson, B; McConnell, W; Hustedt, J; Moody, JW

Published Date

  • August 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 21 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 1518 -

PubMed ID

  • 34362330

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8344207

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1471-2458

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1471-2458

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1186/s12889-021-11551-9


  • eng