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Ann Fam Med. 2011 May-Jun;9(3):244-9. doi: 10.1370/afm.1225.

'Meeting people where they're at': experiences of family physicians engaging women who use illicit drugs.

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  • 1South Riverdale Community Health Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



There is little research exploring the experiences of family physicians caring for women who use illicit drugs. This study explores the experiences of these physicians in order to better understand the process of engaging these women in the patient-physician relationship.


We conducted a phenomenologic, qualitative study using individual, in-depth interviews with 10 family physicians working in inner-city Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario. An iterative and interpretive analysis was used.


Three broad themes emerged from the analysis. The predominant theme was that of the patient-physician relationship, which consisted of 2 phases: the engagement phase and the maintenance phase. During the engagement phase, issues such as access and women's experiences of trauma and violence were evident and impeded participants' ability to engage with this population. As such, the patient-physician relationship during the engagement phase was tenuous. Trust and presence were paramount during this phase. Once a family physician engaged a woman, the transition to the maintenance phase was made. Within the maintenance phase, 2 subthemes were identified: continuity of care and "meeting people where they're at" (finding common ground).


This study identified a 2-phase process of the patient-physician relationship from the perspective of family physicians caring for women using illicit drugs: the engagement and maintenance phases. Our findings identified strategies to support the patient-physician relationship during each of these phases that have implications for improving the health of these women.

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