Patients Seeking Buprenorphine Treatment Face Significant Barriers

A new study using “secret shoppers” found patients who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid often have a difficult time getting an appointment with a doctor who prescribes the opioid addiction medication buprenorphine.

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health created a “secret shopper” study, in which 546 health care providers were called twice—once by a person posing as a Medicaid enrollee, and once as an uninsured patient. HealthDay reports the calls were made to providers in six areas of the country that have high rates of opioid use disorder, including Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found 38 percent to 46 percent of callers who reported current heroin use were denied an appointment. Only 50 percent to 66 percent of doctors booking new appointments allowed buprenorphine to be prescribed on the first visit.