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


Michael Von Korff 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, medicines, and cope with illness in their daily lives.

Dr. Von Korff has co-led 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. More recently, his research has focused on trends and risks of long-term prescription of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain.

In January 2010, Dr. Von Korff and colleagues published the first study on overdose risk by dose among patients receiving prescribed opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. That study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, linked higher risk of fatal and nonfatal overdose to higher daily dose prescribed. His research also showed that Kaiser Permanente Washington, like other health systems nationwide, had been prescribing more opioids for chronic non-cancer pain over time—a twofold increase from 1997 to 2005. His research on opioids was funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Aging.

Recognizing the importance of the organization of care in shaping safe opioid prescribing practices, Kaiser Permanente Washington's Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Randi Beck, MD, partnered with Dr. Von Korff to implement new approaches to opioid risk reduction, including an online clinician education course, Changing Chronic Pain Management & Use of Opioids, which explains Kaiser Permanente Washington's guidelines on opioid prescribing. Funded by a Partnership for Innovation grant from the Group Health Foundation, the course aims to help primary care providers implement recommended practice changes. Substantial change in opioid management was achieved through guideline implementation. Dr. Von Korff recently received significant funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to evaluate the effects of these practice changes on patient pain outcomes and opioid-related adverse events.

Dr. Von Korff 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 World Health Organization initiatives related to disability and mental health. 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

Campbell CI, Kline-Simon AH, Von Korff M, Saunders KW, Weisner C. Alcohol and drug use and aberrant drug-related behavior among patients on chronic opioid therapy. Subst Use Misuse. 2017 Mar 27:1-9. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2016.1276189. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Von Korff M, Shortreed SM, LeResche L, Saunders K, Thielke S, Thakral M, Rosenberg D, Turner JA. A longitudinal study of depression among middle-aged and senior patients initiating chronic opioid therapy. J Affect Disord. 2017;211:136-143. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.12.052. Epub 2017 Jan 6. PubMed

Parchman ML, Von Korff M, Baldwin LM, Stephens M, Ike B, Cromp D, Hsu C, Wagner EH. Primary care clinic re-design for prescription opioid management. J Am Board Fam Med. 2017 1/2;30(1):44-51. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2017.01.160183. PubMed

Mansell G, Hill JC, Main C, Von Korff M, van der Windt D. Mediators of treatment effect in the Back in Action trial: using latent growth modelling to take change over time into account. Clin J Pain. 2016 Dec 7. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed


KPWHRI In the Media

Group Health’s guidelines helped our Group Practice reduce doses of opioids for chronic pain

Tackling chronic pain while reducing opioid use

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, May 11, 2017

opioid epidemic

Macklemore, John Oliver join opioid epidemic awareness fight

As pop culture icons address the dangers of prescription opioid abuse, Dr. Michael Von Korff sees hope for raising the issue in public consciousness.

Read it in Healthy Findings.

Latest News

How Group Health’s collaborative approach transformed depression care

In a group interview, GHRI mental health scientists describe how their work with UW psychiatry researchers changed treatment worldwide.

Read it in News and Events.

KPWHRI In the Media

Kaiser Permanente Washington’s guidelines helped our Group Practice reduce doses of opioids for chronic pain

Investigation: Drugmakers derailed attempts to curb opioid epidemic

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 19, 2016

healthy findings blog

Prince’s apparent opioid-linked death shows need for new plan for pain

For over a decade, Dr. Michael Von Korff and others have been working on a strategy to stop the opioid epidemic. Here’s an outline. 

Read about it in Healthy Findings.

KPWHRI In the Media

Kaiser Permanente Washington’s guidelines helped our Group Practice reduce doses of opioids for chronic pain

Beyond pills and shots: Pain patients seek other options

Boston Globe, Dec. 30, 2016