Health Care Providers’ Perceived Barriers to Screening for Substance Use During Pregnancy

Ryoko Pentecost, Kristy Schmidt, Jane S. Grassley, Health Care Providers’ Perceived Barriers to Screening for Substance Use During Pregnancy, Nursing for Women’s Health, 2021, ISSN 1751-4851,



To explore health care providers’ perceived barriers to conducting standardized screening processes for substance use during pregnancy.


Descriptive survey.

Setting/Local Problem:

A health system in the northwestern United States where there was a lack of consistent substance use screening in prenatal clinics.


A convenience sample of 12 women’s health care providers from two hospitals in the health system, including obstetricians/gynecologists, women’s health nurse practitioners, women’s health physician assistants, and certified nurse-midwives.


We created a 16-item questionnaire that identified potential barriers to screening, such as education/resources for providers, screening tools, referral processes, legal implications, patient relations, and infrastructure.


A majority (n = 8, 66.7%) of participants indicated they had received adequate training regarding substance use during pregnancy and felt comfortable asking pregnant women about their substance use. All (n = 12, 100%) providers indicated that women would feel safe disclosing their substance use but might feel offended if their provider asked them about it. Although most reported screening women for substance use, they did not use a consistent screening tool or process. Participants identified lack of time, legal concerns, and lack of access to resources for referrals as other barriers to screening.


Clinicians perceive barriers to screening for substance use during pregnancy, and they may be unaware of legal implications for patients related to perinatal substance use. Identifying barriers to universal screening may facilitate development of best practices related to counseling patients about substance use during pregnancy.

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