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

Thielke S, Shortreed SM, Saunders K, Turner JA, LeResche L, von Korff M. A prospective study of predictors of long-term opioid use among patients with chronic non-cancer pain. Clin J Pain. 2016 Jul 15. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Von Korff M, Scher AI, Helmick C, Carter-Pokras O, Dodick D, Goulet J, Hamill-Ruth R, LeResche L, Porter L, Tait R, Terman G, Veasley C, Mackey S. United States National Pain Strategy for Population Research: concepts, definitions and pilot data. J Pain. 2016 Jul 1. pii: S1526-5900(16)30110-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.06.009. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed

Schmidt K, Worrack S, Von Korff M, Davydow D, Brunkhorst F, Ehlert U, Pausch C, Mehlhorn J, Schneider N, Scherag A, Freytag A, Reinhart K, Wensing M, Gensichen J; SMOOTH Study Group. Effect of a primary care management intervention on mental health-related quality of life among survivors of sepsis: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2016 Jun 28;315(24):2703-11. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.7207. PubMed

Von Korff MR, Franklin G. Responding to America's Iatrogenic Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Addiction and Overdose. Med Care. 2016;54(5):426-9. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000537. PubMed


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.

medication news

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