Physicians in the Substance Abuse Treatment Workforce

A study of substance abuse treatment organizations’ use of physicians found that funding barriers were associated with organizations’ lack of physician employment.

The authors used data from 249 publicly funded substance abuse treatment organizations to examine organizational and environmental factors associated with the organizations’ employment of physicians. They examined staffing, structural characteristics and the environment in which the organizations functioned.

Key Findings:

  • The average publicly funded substance treatment organization employed at least one physician.
  • Most organizations reported that it was either somewhat or very difficult to find physicians locally who had substance abuse treatment experience, and agreed or strongly agreed that organizational funding did not adequately reimburse the costs of employing physicians.
  • Organizations that were accredited, embedded in health care settings that offered detoxification services, and larger organizations employed more physicians.
  • Inadequate reimbursement of physician time and other funding barriers were associated with the employment of fewer physicians.
  • Organizations unaware that they could use state funding for medical staff employed fewer physicians.

Increasing physician employment in substance abuse treatment will require attention to the organizational and environmental factors of substance abuse treatment facilities. The authors suggest that researching physicians’ own perspectives and work activities in substance abuse treatment would be valuable.