Objective: To assess whether patients receiving opioid substitution therapy (OST) in general practice cause other patients sufficient distress to change practices — a perceived barrier that prevents general practitioners from prescribing OST.
Design, setting and participants: A cross-sectional questionnaire-based survey of consecutive adult patients in the waiting rooms of a network of research general practices in New South Wales during August – December 2009.
Main outcome measures: Prevalence of disturbing waiting room experiences where drug intoxication was considered a factor, discomfort about sharing the waiting room with patients being treated for drug addiction, and likelihood of changing practices if the practice provided specialised care for patients with opiate addiction.
Results: From 15 practices (eight OST-prescribing), 1138 of 1449 invited patients completed questionnaires (response rate, 78.5%). A disturbing experience in any waiting room at any time was reported by 18.0% of respondents (203/1130), with only 3.1% (35/1128) reporting that drug intoxication was a contributing factor. However, 39.3% of respondents (424/1080) would feel uncomfortable sharing the waiting room with someone being treated for drug addiction. Respondents were largely unaware of the OST-prescribing status of the practice (12.1% of patients attending OST-prescribing practices [70/579] correctly reported this). Only 15.9% of respondents (165/1037) reported being likely to change practices if theirs provided specialised care for opiate-addicted patients. In contrast, 28.7% (302/1053) were likely to change practices if consistently kept waiting more than 30 minutes, and 26.6% (275/1033) would likely do so if consultation fees increased by $10.
Conclusions: Despite the frequency of stigmatising attitudes towards patients requiring treatment for drug addiction, GPs’ concerns that prescribing OST in their practices would have a negative impact on other patients’ waiting room experiences or on retention of patients seem to be unfounded.
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