Background: Healthcare professionals are crucial in the identification and accessibility to treatment for people with substance use disorders. Our objective was to assess health professionals' attitudes towards patients with substance use disorders and examine the consequences of these attitudes on healthcare delivery for these patients in Western countries.
Methods: Pubmed, PsycINFO and Embase were systematically searched for articles published between 2000 and 2011. Studies evaluating health professionals' attitudes towards patients with substance use disorders and consequences of negative attitudes were included. An inclusion criterion was that studies addressed alcohol or illicit drug abuse. Reviews, commentaries and letters were excluded, as were studies originating from non-Western countries.
Results: The search process yielded 1562 citations. After selection and quality assessment, 28 studies were included. Health professionals generally had a negative attitude towards patients with substance use disorders. They perceived violence, manipulation, and poor motivation as impeding factors in the healthcare delivery for these patients. Health professionals also lacked adequate education, training and support structures in working with this patient group. Negative attitudes of health professionals diminished patients' feelings of empowerment and subsequent treatment outcomes. Health professionals are less involved and have a more task-oriented approach in the delivery of healthcare, resulting in less personal engagement and diminished empathy.
Conclusions: This review indicates that negative attitudes of health professionals towards patients with substance use disorders are common and contribute to suboptimal health care for these patients. However, few studies have evaluated the consequences of health professionals' negative attitudes towards patients with substance use disorders.
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