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BMC Fam Pract. 2018 Jul 3;19(1):107. doi: 10.1186/s12875-018-0783-9.

Expanding the role of clinical pharmacists on interdisciplinary primary care teams for chronic pain and opioid management.

Author information

VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Center for Innovation to Implementation (Ci2i), Menlo Park, CA, 94025, USA.
VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System, Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation, and Policy (CSHIIP), Los Angeles, CA, 90073, USA.
David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, 10945 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90024, USA.
VA Minneapolis Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research (CCDOR), 5445 Minnehaha Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 55417, USA.
VA Northern California Health Care System, 10535 Hospital Way, Mather, CA, 95655, USA.
VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Center for Innovation to Implementation (Ci2i), Menlo Park, CA, 94025, USA.
VA Portland Health Care System, Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC), 3710 SW US Veterans Hospital Rd, Portland, OR, 97239, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health and Science University, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park RD, Portland, OR, 97239, USA.
Stanford Medical School, Palo Alto, CA, 94305, USA.
RAND Corporation, 1776 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA, 90401, USA.



Facilitating appropriate and safe prescribing of opioid medications for chronic pain management in primary care is a pressing public health concern. Interdisciplinary team-based models of primary care are exploring the expansion of clinical pharmacist roles to support disease management for chronic conditions, e.g. pain. Our study aims to 1) identify roles clinical pharmacists can assume in primary care team based chronic pain care processes and 2) understand the barriers to assuming these expanded roles.


Setting: Veterans Health Administration (VA) has implemented an interdisciplinary team-based model for primary care which includes clinical pharmacists.


We employed an inductive two part qualitative approach including focus groups and semi-structured interviews with key informants.


60 members of VA primary care teams in two states participated in nine preliminary interdisciplinary focus groups where a semi-structured interview guide elucidated provider experiences with screening for and managing chronic pain. To follow up on emergent themes relating to clinical pharmacist roles, an additional 14 primary care providers and clinical pharmacists were interviewed individually. We evaluated focus group and interview transcripts using the method of constant comparison and produced mutually agreed upon themes.


Clinical pharmacists were identified by primary care providers as playing a central role with the ongoing management of opioid therapy including review of the state prescription drug monitoring program, managing laboratory screening, providing medication education, promoting naloxone use, and opioid tapering. Specific barriers to clinical pharmacists role expansion around pain care include: limitations of scopes of practice, insufficient institutional support (low staffing, dedicated time, insufficient training, lack of interdisciplinary leadership support), and challenges and opportunities for disseminating clinical pharmacists' expanded roles.


Expanding the role of the clinical pharmacist to collaborate with providers around primary care based chronic pain management is a promising strategy for improving pain management on an interdisciplinary primary care team. However, expanded roles have to be balanced with competing responsibilities relating to other conditions. Interdisciplinary leadership is needed to facilitate training, resources, adequate staffing, as well as to prepare both clinical pharmacists and the providers they support, about expanded clinical pharmacists' scopes of practice and capabilities.


Clinical pharmacists; Interdisciplinary teams; Pain; Pain management; Qualitative research; Team based care

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