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Providing patients a map to treatment

June 29, 2009
by David Raths
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An online service connects people with doctors who prescribe buprenorphine

A three-year-old online service that matches physicians who offer buprenorphine treatment with patients seeking help with opioid addiction has recently added mapping features to make the process easier for both parties.

As of this past May, more than 21,500 patients have been connected with 2,513 participating physicians by TreatmentMatch.org, created by the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT). In fact, usage has increased 200% over a year ago, says Timothy Lepak, president of the nonprofit NAABT.

Physicians certified to prescribe buprenorphine are limited by federal law to treating up to 30 patients at any one time during the first year of certification and up to 100 patients a year after that. According to NAABT, this restriction forces patients onto waiting lists for treatment, although another doctor in their region may have openings and be willing to treat them. Thus, NAABT created the online matching system to allow patients to register (anonymously) so certified physicians can contact them via e-mail as soon as they have an opening.

“We found that this is an efficient way to match doctors and patients,” explains Lepak. “People don’t stay on the waiting list long. We’ve never had more than 300 at any one time, and 80% get contacted by a physician in the first 24 hours.”

NAABT recently added a mapping feature to help physicians see where patients are seeking help.

“We wanted to have a way for doctors to take a quick look to see if there are patients in their area needing help,” Lepak says.

The map also helps Lepak target his outreach campaigns. “If I see areas where there are clusters of patients needing treatment and not enough clinicians, I can send postcards and do advertising in those areas to try to get more physicians interested,” he notes.

Patients find the service through their own Web searches, radio ads, public service announcements, and ads in pharmacies.

It can be an intimidating to take the first step in reaching out for help, Lepak points out. He believes an online matching system may be applicable to other efforts such as alcohol or methamphetamine treatment, “anywhere the patient really wants to be anonymous and has difficulty finding a doctor.”

David Raths is a freelance writer.

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