Addiction Medicine Consult Services improve health outcomes for patients in hospitals

Substance use disorders (SUDs) can impact each and every one of us. Perhaps you've experienced this first-hand, or have someone in your life who is impacted by substance use.

This year, the theme of National Addictions Awareness Week (Nov. 20-26) is A Community of Caring. Island Health’s Addiction Medicine Consult Services (AMCS) are exactly that – specialized teams across Vancouver Island that work with people and clinical colleagues to develop plans for individuals who have been admitted to hospital due to an acute illness and where their substance use may impact their recovery. The aim is to achieve better health outcomes with an approach that focuses on harm reduction, cultural safety and trauma-informed practice.

AMCS supports include:

  • Information, education and access to evidence-based treatments for patients and their families to improve the management of SUDs
  • Advocating for patients to access and remain in acute care for the duration of treatment
  • Emotional support and understanding a person's needs in order to work with them and their care team in a safe and compassionate way
  • Consultation and collaboration with other hospital and outpatient teams to advocate for patients struggling with substance use and optimize their care

“The field of addiction medicine is rapidly evolving. AMCS teams are trained in the latest evidence-based addiction medicine care, are multidisciplinary and patient-centric, and promote both harm reduction and recovery from addiction,” says Dr. Ramm Hering, Lead, Primary Care Addiction Medicine. “Crucially, these teams respond quickly to support both patients and other health care providers. This work is critical to helping people move their lives forward in a positive manner and ideally reduce drug poisoning deaths.” 

Some people experiencing SUDs have reported that their needs are not always met by health-care services. People who use substances identify several reasons for delaying a hospital visit or leaving against medical advice, including: pain or discomfort associated with withdrawal; stigma experienced in health-care settings; and expectation of abstinence while in hospital.

These issues can be overcome. The specialized AMCS teams of physicians, nurses, social workers and people with lived/living experience help patients with SUDs manage pain and withdrawal. AMCS teams also work with colleagues in acute care to develop strategies that better support patients who use substances, enhance patient-provider relationships and ultimately improve health outcomes.