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Researchers at Kaiser Permanente have discovered an intervention that can teach people in addiction programs how they can connect with the primary care medical team on physical and mental health issues with long-term benefits lasting more than five years. The benefits include fewer substance-related emergency department visits and more primary care use. 

The five-year follow-up study of the LINKAGE experiment examined 503 patients at a Kaiser Permanente outpatient clinic between 2011 and 2013. The study findings were published in the JAMA Network Open on November 10, 2022. In the LINKAGE study, the results of the patients that underwent patient activation training were compared to those of patients that didn’t.

Substance use patients have increased rates of chronic diseases 

Lead study author Esti Iturralde said that substance use disorder patients have more mental and physical problems than those without the disorder. Iturralde said that such patients have increased rates of chronic illnesses and early mortality and use emergency care more often than preventive services. 

The intervention sought to improve their relationship with primary care and equip them with the knowledge and self-assurance necessary to speak up on their behalf in the healthcare system.

A behavioural health expert will lead 6 group meetings of the intervention. Participants gain knowledge about how to utilize the computerized patient portal, set objectives for their recovery and health, and communicate with doctors more effectively. In order to improve their relationship, LINKAGE volunteers also have a guided phone conversation or email interaction with the primary care provider.

Initial LINKAGE study findings revealed in 2016

The findings of the initial LINKAGE study were revealed in a 2016 JAMA Psychiatry research. It showed that patients experienced remarkable short-term benefits, including increased usage of the patient online, increased abstinence from drug use, and increased likelihood of discussing substance use with a care physician.

Individuals who completed the intervention were much more inclined to seek primary care services and less inclined to visit the emergency room with a substance-related issue, according to this 5-year follow-up study analyzing patient information up to 2018.