Effectiveness of a whole health model of care emphasizing complementary and integrative health on reducing opioid use among patients with chronic pain

Steven B. Zeliadt, Jamie H. Douglas, Hannah Gelman, Scott Coggeshall, Stephanie L. Taylor, Benjamin Kligler, Barbara G. Bokhour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The opioid crisis has necessitated new approaches to managing chronic pain. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Whole Health model of care, with its focus on patient empowerment and emphasis on nonpharmacological approaches to pain management, is a promising strategy for reducing patients’ use of opioids. We aim to assess whether the VHA’s Whole Health pilot program impacted longitudinal patterns of opioid utilization among patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Methods: A cohort of 4,869 Veterans with chronic pain engaging in Whole Health services was compared with a cohort of 118,888 Veterans receiving conventional care. All patients were continuously enrolled in VHA care from 10/2017 through 3/2019 at the 18 VHA medical centers participating in the pilot program. Inverse probability of treatment weighting and multivariate analyses were used to adjust for observable differences in patient characteristics between exposures and conventional care. Patients exposed to Whole Health services were offered nine complementary and integrative health therapies alone or in combination with novel Whole Health services including goal-setting clinical encounters, Whole Health coaching, and personal health planning. Main measures: The main measure was change over an 18-month period in prescribed opioid doses starting from the six-month period prior to qualifying exposure. Results: Prescribed opioid doses decreased by -12.0% in one year among Veterans who began complementary and integrative health therapies compared to similar Veterans who used conventional care; -4.4% among Veterans who used only Whole Health services such as goal setting and coaching compared to conventional care, and -8.5% among Veterans who used both complementary and integrative health therapies combined with Whole Health services compared to conventional care. Conclusions: VHA’s Whole Health national pilot program was associated with greater reductions in prescribed opioid doses compared to secular trends associated with conventional care, especially when Veterans were connected with complementary and integrative health therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1053
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Complementary and Alternative medicine
  • Complementary and Integrative health
  • Opioid analgesics
  • Pain management
  • Veterans
  • Whole Health


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