Physicians Joining Tennessee’s Effort to Reduce Substance Abuse

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 | 11:49am

NASHVILLE – The doctor-patient relationship has gone through an evolution over the past few decades. The days of a primary care physician solely directing treatment and care has transformed into a more open and collaborative exchange. This shift has led to more patients taking an active role in directing their health and wellness.

For physicians who are mindful of the impact that substance use and misuse can have on the health and livelihood of their patients, this “sharing of ideas” environment offers doctors the opportunity to ask questions about substance use and intervene if necessary.

“The result can be powerful dialogue, and in some instances lifesaving,” said E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “Primary care physicians and specialists develop strong and caring relationships with their patients. It’s these health care professionals who we are encouraging to the take the next step in getting patients who need help for a substance use issue into treatment. All it often takes is for the physician to have that conversation.”

In Tennessee, physicians can join a statewide program aimed at identifying patients for possible substance use during a regular, scheduled appointment. The Substance Abuse Screenings in Tennessee initiative, known as SBIRT-TN, is a universal screening service, aimed at assessing the risks of substance abuse. SBIRT stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment.

“It’s an opportunity for a physician to gauge if their patient is at-risk and could benefit from treatment,” said Commissioner Varney. “In many instances, a brief conversation can reveal substance use habits that are taking a heavy toll. Patients often experience a measure of relief as they can finally acknowledge their substance use and consider ways to address it with their physician.”

CLICK HERE to see how SBIRT-TN works and how not just primary care physicians in Tennessee are working to help people struggling with substance use issues.

Physician Recruitment in Tennessee Key to SBIRT-TN Success

Over the past five years, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has put special focus on recruiting physicians to join the SBIRT-TN statewide network. Helping to identify individuals who may be at risk means fewer Tennesseans struggling with a substance use issue.

 “The doctor and patient relationship is unlike no other, as it centers on a best- practice model that has existed for many years,” said Commissioner Varney. “In the brief five-year timeframe we have focused our efforts on building Tennessee’s network of physicians, we have seen the impact caring physicians can have on their patients who struggle with substance abuse.”

It’s a partnership built on trust, with patients fully involved, setting goals for treatment in an environment of respect, fairness, and most importantly, confidentiality.

The program is evidenced based and provides appropriate levels of care to all patients, including effective intervention and referrals to specialized treatment.

“Some people who have struggled for years with an addiction, and have been too ashamed or worried about the consequences of admitting they have a problem, will open up to a primary care physician they trust,” said Commissioner Varney. “Many individuals have experienced great relief after being asked about an addiction they have kept secret and can finally open up about and start on a path to recovery.”

Participating Screening Locations in Tennessee

  • Baptist Memorial Hospital – Memphis 
  • Dayspring Family Health Center – Jellico
  • ETSU Family Medicine Associates – Johnson City
  • ETSU Family Physicians of Bristol – Bristol
  • ETSU Physicians of Kingsport – Kingsport
  • Meharry Nashville General Hospital – Nashville
  • Mountain Health Clinic, LLC – Del Rio
  • Neighborhood Health Services – Madison
  • Ripley Medical Clinic – Ripley Serenity Health Care – Madison
  • Siloam Family Health Center – Nashville
  • St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital, St. Louise Clinic – Murfreesboro
  • Tennessee Army National Guard – Milan
  • Tennessee Army National Guard – Smyrna
  • UT Medical Center – Knoxville
  • UT Family Medicine Center, Residency Program – Jackson
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center – Nashville
  • Women’s Healthcare – Memphis 

Health |Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services