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

Group Health Research Institute Senior Investigator


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 Group Health, 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, Group Health’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 Group Health’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 GHRI’s Associate Director for Research from 1992 to 1996 and again from 1999 to 2005.

Research interests and experience

Recent publications

Von Korff M, Dublin S, Walker RL, Parchman M, Shortreed SM, Hansen RN, Saunders K. The impact of opioid risk reduction initiatives on high-dose opioid prescribing for chronic opioid therapy patients. J Pain. 2015 Oct 14. pii: S1526-5900(15)00908-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2015.10.002. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Maeng DD, Stewart WF, Yan X, Boscarino JA, Mardekian J, Harnett J, Von Korff MR. Use of electronic health records for early detection of high-cost, low back pain patients. ain Res Manag. 2015 Sep-Oct;20(5):234-40. Epub 2015 Aug 20. PubMed

Carrell DS, Cronkite D, Palmer RE, Saunders K, Gross DE, Masters ET, Hylan TR, Von Korff M. Using natural language processing to identify problem usage of prescription opioids. Int J Med Inform. 2015 Sep 25. pii: S1386-5056(15)30037-X. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2015.09.002. [Epub ahead of print].

Deyo RA, Dworkin SF, Amtmann D, Andersson G, Borenstein D, Carragee E, Carrino J, Chou R, Cook K, DeLitto A, Goertz C, Khalsa P, Loeser J, Mackey S, Panagis J, Rainville J, Tosteson T, Turk D, Von Korff M, Weiner DK. Report of the NIH Task Force on Research Standards for Chronic Low Back Pain. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2015 1;8(3):16-33. eCollection 2015 Sep. PubMed


healthy findings blog

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

Dr. Michael Von Korff discusses how Washington state guidelines also appeared to lower opioid doses, but large dose reductions followed health plan initiatives.

Read it in Healthy Findings.


Seniors’ use of potent meds via Medicare staggering

USA Today (syndicated), Jun 10, 2014