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

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.

 

q&a with dr. von korff

Of big data, systems change, research partnerships

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

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.

study of opioid use

Long-term opioid risks are the focus of $10 million KPWHRI study

Dr. Denise Boudreau launches a collaborative project with Kaiser and other health systems on the safety of long-term prescription opioid use.

one scientist's legacy

Celebrating 36 years of research to improve care for depression and chronic pain

Dr. Michael Von Korff, one of KPWHRI’s founding scientists, has helped to make people healthier around the world, improving how care is provided.