Doctors with a specialty in pediatric care, as well as doctors specializing in pediatric and family medicine, are more likely to prescribe opioids to children and adults suffering from chronic pain than those with a general medical specialty, according to a new study from the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
The report, published Thursday in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, analyzed data from nearly 10,000 doctors who filled out questionnaires that gauged the health of patients with chronic, noncancer pain.
Doctors were asked to rate the quality of care they provided to patients with moderate to severe pain, with moderate pain being the most critical.
Doctors with pain in both the short and long term also received high marks.
The study found that doctors with a pediatric or family medical specialty tended to provide higher levels of pain medication for adults and children with chronic conditions than doctors with general medical specialties.
They were also more likely than other doctors to recommend opioids to patients who had moderate to extreme pain.
Overall, the study found, pediatric and adult physicians were about 40% more likely as general medical specialists to recommend opioid treatment to children, compared with those who did not have a pediatric specialty.
It also found that pediatric and child physicians tended to give lower doses of opioids to adults with moderate or severe pain compared to general medical practitioners.
Doctors in the study who had a pediatric, family medical, or general medical specialization were also about 80% more effective at managing pain than other specialists, the report found.
Doctors who were primary care physicians were slightly more likely overall to prescribe pain medications for adults, compared to primary care doctors with other specialties, the findings showed.
But the results weren’t statistically significant.
Dr. Jennifer Siegel, the lead author of the study and a medical director at the Cleveland Clinic, said the results are not surprising because the pediatric specialty is often viewed as the only one that’s best equipped to treat children and adolescents with chronic medical conditions.
“We’re always trying to figure out how to better provide care to kids with chronic diseases,” Siegel said.
The findings aren’t surprising, given the way the health care system is structured, she added.
But the findings suggest that primary care providers are more concerned about the pain and other problems of kids with serious medical conditions, she said.
This story was updated on Aug. 21 at 4:35 p.m. ET.