Improving transitions of care for patients initiated on buprenorphine for opioid use disorder from the emergency departments in King County, Washington

J Am Coll Emerg Physicians Open. 2021 Mar 23;2(2):e12408. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12408. eCollection 2021 Apr.


Study objective: Opioid use disorder (OUD) is on the rise nationwide with increasing emergency department (ED) visits and deaths secondary to overdose. Although previous research has shown that patients who are started on buprenorphine in the ED have increased engagement in addiction treatment, access to on-demand medications for OUD is still limited, in part because of the need for linkages to outpatient care. The objective of this study is to describe emergency and outpatient providers' perception of local barriers to transitions of care for ED-initiated buprenorphine patients.

Methods: Purposive sampling was used to recruit key stakeholders, identified as physicians, addiction specialists, and hospital administrators, from 10 EDs and 11 outpatient clinics in King County, Washington. Twenty-one interviews were recorded and transcribed and then coded using an integrated deductive and inductive content analysis approach by 2 team members to verify accuracy of the analysis. Interview guides and coding were informed by the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR), which provides a structure of domains and constructs associated with effective implementation of evidence-based practice.

Results: From the 21 interviews with emergency and outpatient providers, this study identified 4 barriers to transitions of care for ED-initiated buprenorphine patients: scope of practice, prescribing capacity, referral incoordination, and loss to follow-up.

Conclusion: Next steps for implementation of this intervention in a community setting include establishing a standard of care for treatment and referral for ED patients with OUD, increasing buprenorphine prescribing capacity, creating a central repository for streamlined referrals and follow-up, and supporting low-barrier scheduling and navigation services.