When receiving healthcare, people want to feel safe and assured that the care they receive will be professional and respectful. In many communities, respectful care can be challenging to come by, especially for individuals recovering from alcohol and other drug-related problems.
To create a safer, more inclusive environment for your clients, healthcare providers must:
Avoid Polarizing Language
Patient intake forms are standard procedure in medical offices. They give the provider information about the patient’s medical history, past surgeries, medications, and demographic data. Unfortunately, sometimes forms can be polarizing to patients who currently use substances or who are recovering from a substance use disorder.
Jean, who was filling out an intake form before a routine checkup, noticed these two questions:
- Illicit Drugs? Yes or No
- Drugs Abused? Check from the list.
This may seem like a straightforward question, but it leaves no room for discussion about the patient’s current status and can therefore be polarizing for individuals in recovery.
A patient who uses cannabis infrequently may mark “Yes.” With no room to discuss frequency (as is often the case when asked about alcohol and smoking), the patient may feel like the provider will judge them based on a limited response to that one question. Someone in recovery may not know how to answer this question regarding past use.
Avoid the word “abuse”. It perpetuates the stigma surrounding people struggling with substance use disorder. According to DrugAbuse.gov, “The term “abuse” was found to have a high association with negative judgments and punishment.” This is especially important in minority communities where a lack of trust in the medical system is common—and not without reason. In these communities, there is a fear that seeking treatment will result in legal consequences like incarceration.
Instead, use language like:
- Substance use
- Abstinence from substance use
- Treatment for alcohol and other drug use disorders
Make sure to include spaces for frequency as you would for alcohol and smoking, as well as an option for patients to choose whether they want to discuss it with you.
Consider the Needs Of The LGBTQ Community
People in the LGBTQ community unfortunately face the risk of discrimination and being denied inclusive health care. This means it’s crucial to ensure that your intake forms and office staff are educated and equipped to serve the community.
A few helpful pointers:
- When marking sexual orientation and gender identity, avoid using “Other” and instead include options like current gender identity, sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, and preferred pronouns.
- Educate yourself and your staff about health disparities among LGBTQ populations, such as higher rates of STIs, substance misuse, depression, anxiety, and violence victimization.
Listen to What Your Patients Have to Say
Individuals seeking healthcare commonly feel like the provider isn’t listening to what they have to say. When people seeking treatment don’t trust their provider, they are less likely to be truthful, especially about substance use.
When a patient comes into your office with concerns and questions, really listen to what they have to say. Beyond asking about their symptoms, ask about their story instead of “yes or no” questions. For example, if they seek treatment for alcohol, ask them when it started, the circumstances surrounding it, and their goals for treatment.
Building a positive relationship with patients who come to your practice will help them feel safe when seeking treatment for an alcohol or other drug use disorder. At PreventEd, we have professional resources to help you and your staff create a safer, more inclusive environment at your practice. For information on opportunities ranging from ethics training to general substance use education, contact PreventEd today.