A Quality Improvement Approach to Reducing Use of Meperidine

In 1991 the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics formed a pain management QI team whose goal was to improve pain management through education, outcome monitoring, and the development of programs intended to improve clinical practice. Longitudinal monitoring mechanisms were established to audit medical records and survey patients to examine both staff practice patterns and patient outcomes. The QI team targeted use of meperidine, one of the most widely used opioid analgesics for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, which is now discouraged as a first-line agent for most painful conditions.


A QI process was implemented using a traditional plan-do-check-act (PDCA) model, resulting in a successful and sustained reduction of inappropriate meperidine use. A cause-and-effect diagram helped highlight the multiple factors contributing to the drug's overuse and was used to prioritize targets for action. A flow chart helped to uncover some of the interrelationships between the myths about meperidine and the resultant customary prescribing and administration practices. While most of the strategies were implemented in 1996 (formulary guideline release, change in stock supply and physician orders, staff education and feedback), a significant impact in practice was not seen until late 1997. Ongoing tracking and feedback loops were established to ensure continued low use of meperidine.


Use of a QI approach in pain management has been shown to affect the visibility of pain as a clinical priority, enhance interdisciplinary collaboration, facilitate the implementation of clinical guidelines at the bedside, and improve the quality of care for patients.


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Gordon DB
Jones HD
Goshman LM
Foley DK
Bland SE