Michael Von Korff, ScD

“The goal of my research is developing evidence-based clinical practices that can be used nationwide to ensure safe, effective, and compassionate care for patients with chronic pain.”

Michael Von Korff, ScD

Senior Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Biography

Michael Von Korff, ScD, has carried out groundbreaking research on the management and outcomes of chronic pain, depression, and other illnesses in primary care settings. His work as an epidemiologist and health services researcher focuses on understanding how patients adapt to chronic illnesses associated with pain and psychological distress, including how they use health care services and medicines, and how they cope with illness in their daily lives.

Nationally known for his research on collaborative care for depression, Dr. Von Korff’s recent work has focused on trends and risks of long-term prescription of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. In 2010, he and colleagues published the first study to link higher risk of fatal and nonfatal opioid overdoses to higher daily dose prescribed. Dr. Von Korff then worked with clinical leaders at Kaiser Permanente Washington to implement a multi-faceted opioid safety initiative led to a 63 percent drop in the number of patients on high opioid doses. With funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, Dr. Von Korff is now evaluating the effects of these practice changes on patient pain outcomes and opioid-related adverse events.

Dr. Von Korff is also working on the Team-Based Opioid Management project, which is funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The project provides a public website with dozens of resources and tools that support safer opioid prescribing. Its centerpiece is the “Six Building Blocks”—the core components of safe, team-based opioid prescribing that have been implemented successfully in primary care settings across the country.

Earlier in his career, Dr. Von Korff co-led a series of major randomized trials examining various approaches to chronic illness management in primary care, including collaborative care for depression and interventions to improve self-care of chronic-recurrent back pain. A major focus throughout his career has been studying mental-physical comorbidity and how patients manage distressing physical symptoms. This research has included a series of longitudinal studies of disability and health care use among primary care patients with depression, back pain, headache, and other chronic pain conditions.

Dr. Von Korff co-founded Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, an organization that has effectively advocated nationally for more cautious and selective opioid prescribing. He has published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals on chronic pain, mental health, chronic illness, and disability. In 1997, he was selected as a fellow of AcademyHealth and of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. In 2002, the Institute for Scientific Information recognized him as one of the nation’s most highly cited scientists in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. He has served as an advisor to major global mental health studies conducted by the World Health Organization. He also served as KPWHRI’s Associate Director for Research from 1992 to 1996 and again from 1999 to 2005.

Research interests and experience

Recent publications

Mayhew M, DeBar LL, Deyo RA, Kerns RD, Goulet JL, Brandt CA, Von Korff M. Development and Assessment of a Crosswalk Between ICD-9-CM and ICD-10-CM to Identify Patients with Common Pain Conditions. LID - S1526-5900(18)30784-3 [pii] LID - 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.05.006 [doi] J Pain. 2019 May 23. pii: S1526-5900(18)30784-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2019.05.006 [Epub ahead of print] PubMed

Kroenke K, Krebs EE, Turk D, Von Korff M, Bair MJ, Allen KD, Sandbrink F, Cheville AL, DeBar L, Lorenz KA, Kerns RD. Core outcome measures for chronic musculoskeletal pain research: recommendations from a Veterans Health Administration Work Group. Pain Med. 2019 Jan 5. pii: 5274160. doi: 10.1093/pm/pny279. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Dublin S, Walker RL, Shortreed SM, Ludman EJ, Sherman KJ, Hansen RN, Thakral M, Saunders K, Parchman ML, Von Korff M. Impact of initiatives to reduce prescription opioid risks on medically attended injuries in people using chronic opioid therapy. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2018 Oct 30. doi: 10.1002/pds.4678. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Liu M, McCurry SM, Belza B, Buchanan DT, Dobra A, Von Korff M, Vitiello MV. Effects of pain, insomnia, and depression on psychoactive medication supply in older adults with osteoarthritis. Med Care. 2018 Sep 25. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000982. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Balderson BH, Pruitt SD, Von Korff M. Strengthening self-management of low back pain in primary care: an evolving paradigm. In: Turk DC, Gatchel RJ, editors. Psychological Approaches to Pain Management: A Practitioner’s Handbook, 3rd Edition. New York: Guilford Press; 2018. p 319-339.

Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya C, Nahin R, Mackey S, DeBar L, Kerns R, Von Korff M, Porter L, Helmick C. Prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain among adults -United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67(36):1001-1006. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6736a2. PubMed

Von Korff M, Saunders K, Dublin S, Walker RL, Thakral M, Sherman KJ, Ludman EJ, Hansen RN, Parchman M, Shortreed SM. Impact of chronic opioid therapy risk reduction initiatives on opioid overdose. J Pain. 2018 Sep 3. pii: S1526-5900(18)30494-2. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2018.08.003. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Pitcher MH, Von Korff M, Bushnell MC, Porter L. Prevalence and profile of high impact chronic pain in the United States. J Pain. 2018 Aug 7. pii: S1526-5900(18)30358-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2018.07.006. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Liu M, McCurry SM, Belza B, Dobra A, Buchanan DT, Vitiello MV, Von Korff M. Effects of osteoarthritis pain, and concurrent insomnia and depression on health care use in a primary care population of older adults. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2018 Aug 1. doi: 10.1002/acr.23695. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Sherman KJ, Walker RL, Saunders K, Shortreed SM, Parchman M, Hansen RN, Thakral M, Ludman EJ, Dublin S, Von Korff M. Doctor-patient trust among chronic pain patients on chronic opioid therapy after opioid risk reduction initiatives: a survey. J Am Board Fam Med. 2018;31(4):578-587. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2018.04.180021. PubMed

 

our scientist's legacy

Celebrating Dr. Michael Von Korff’s 36 years of research to improve care for depression and chronic pain

Discovering better ways to care for people who are depressed or have chronic pain, one of KPWHRI’s founding scientists has helped change health care around the globe.

q&a with dr. von korff

Of big data, systems change, research partnerships

A conversation with KPWHRI’s Michael Von Korff, ScD, as he retires after 36 years of transformative health research

medication safety

Opioids may raise risks for serious infections

In Annals editorial Drs. Sascha Dublin and Michael Von Korff advocate more caution in prescribing these medications.

opioid research

Stopping the opioid epidemic: Priority research at KPWHRI

Opioid misuse and overdose are now a national priority. For decades, KPWHRI has worked to help patients find safe, effective ways to manage chronic pain.

Learn more about our work in opioid research.