With Enhanced Training, Resident Doctors Build Confidence In Treating Substance Abusers

Resident Doctors Training - PhysicianHealthProgram.comIncreased training in substance use disorders enhances the sense of preparedness in resident doctors to properly address the needs of individuals with serious substance problems, according to a study published in September 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse.

Doctors working in emergency rooms and hospitals are often the first health professionals to encounter people affected by previously undiagnosed substance use disorder (substance abuse/substance addiction). Unfortunately, current evidence shows that many of these non-specialist doctors feel unprepared to care for these patients.

In a new study, a team of American researchers sought to determine if the introduction of enhanced substance use disorder-related training increases the sense of preparedness in doctors known as residents, who commonly staff hospitals and emergency rooms.

Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is a mental health condition centered on symptoms of substance addiction, symptoms of non-addicted substance abuse or simultaneously occurring symptoms of addiction and abuse.

The American Psychiatric Association maintains criteria for diagnosing forms of this disorder stemming from the consumption of all widely identified, mind-altering drugs and medications, as well as criteria for diagnosing problems stemming from the consumption of unknown or undetermined substances.

Together with non-substance-based conditions known as behavioral addictions, substance use disorder forms a larger diagnostic category officially known as substance-related and addictive disorders.

The diagnosis of any form of substance use disorder requires the presence of at least two out of 11 possible symptoms of abuse and/or addiction within a single year’s time. Since the adoption of this criterion in May 2013, U.S. doctors no longer separately address cases of substance abuse and substance addiction.

However, out of tradition and sheer force of habit, even experts in the field often refer to specific forms of abuse and addiction (e.g., cocaine abuse or alcoholism) instead of the type of substance use disorder present in an individual (e.g., stimulant use disorder or alcohol use disorder).

Doctors’ Readiness To Treat

Residents are doctors who have completed medical school but have not yet completed their post-graduate specialization in any particular field of medicine.

In a study published in 2013 in Substance Abuse, a group of researchers from five U.S. institutions used a project involving 184 residents from Harvard University-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital to assess the readiness of doctors with this level of medical training to effectively identify and treat people affected by substance use disorder.

The researchers found that, while people likely affected by diagnosable substance problems make up a large percentage of the patients seen by residents, less than 15 percent of residents fully believe in their ability to make such a diagnosis. In addition, less than 40 percent of residents feel prepared to treat people already diagnosed with substance use disorder.

Does Substance Use Disorder Training Help?

In the current study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Colorado assessed the impact that increased substance use disorder-related training has on residents’ readiness to identify and treat diagnosable substance problems.

Once again, the pool of study participants was drawn from doctors working on their residencies at Massachusetts General Hospital. All of these residents received enhanced education on substance-related issues as part of their overall training curriculum.

After undergoing this enhanced instruction, each participant used a survey to register his or her opinion on the training provided, as well as his or her level of perceived preparedness to deal with substance use disorder-affected individuals.

The researchers found that slightly more than two-thirds (69 percent) of the residents enrolled in the study considered the enhanced training to be thorough enough to properly prepare them to help people dealing with diagnosable substance problems. Roughly 75 percent of the residents viewed their training as “good” or “excellent,” while the vast majority (nearly 100 percent) thought the training at least somewhat improved their preparedness level.

The researchers concluded that those residents who believed they had received adequate instruction from their training had substantially higher chances of declaring themselves ready to diagnose substance-related problems and treat people already diagnosed with such problems.

Curiously, the residents who declared themselves ready to deal with substance-related issues didn’t demonstrate a higher level of knowledge regarding such issues than their counterparts who didn’t feel ready to diagnose or treat substance use disorder.

The study authors note that fully 31 percent of the participating residents did not feel prepared even after receiving the enhanced training. They believe that future researchers must investigate resident training at a larger number of facilities before anyone can really determine the best ways to improve residents’ self-perceived ability to help people with a substance use disorder diagnosis.

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