The ABCs of Effective Referral to Treatment

When is it Appropriate to Refer a Patient to Treatment?

RT first stepsYou should begin the RT process if:

  • A patient has screened as having the most severe levels of alcohol/drug use and/or has met the DSM diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder.


  • Your patient is agreeable to participating in treatment.

Of course, if your patient meets the first criterion but is not “agreeable” then you should still use your  MI and brief intervention skills to raise the issue and attempt to bring about change in his or her stage of change. Giving your patient something to think about, planting the seed, that is, may be all you can do, but it is an important first step.

Referral to Treatment – Relevant Concepts and Components

  • A Patient diagnosed with SUD should be directly referred for acute treatment or to a SUD treatment program that will asses him/her to determine the appropriate level of care.
  • Such a patient should also be referred for treatment of other mental and physical health problems.
  • Treatment for all conditions should be integrated and coordinated.
  • Successful transitions to and from treatment and between levels of care are supported by active development of a working relationship with your community substance abuse treatment providers.

RT another providerIntroducing the Need for Referral

For patients who appear as though they will require a RT, an introduction to a need for referral can be integrated into the brief intervention component of your interaction.

We suggest the following four steps as means by which you can set the stage for RT.

  • Connect the patients screening results and current office visit to the need for specialized treatment.
  • Set the tone by displaying genuine interest with active listening.
  • Display a non-judgmental demeanor.
  • Explain your role and concern as patient’s healthcare provider.