Automated Screening for At-Risk Drinking

When individuals visit their primary care physician, they are often asked to fill out a form detailing specific areas of their health. Questions include inquiries about exercise, history of cancer in their families and symptoms they are currently experiencing.

One of the many aspects of health that affects many other areas and increases risk for certain cancers and heart disease is the level of alcohol use. Though many doctors have a place on their new-patient forms for patients to record their alcohol use, the tool is underutilized. Health problems may go undetected because physicians do not know that their patients are misusing alcohol.

A new study led by Gail L. Rose and colleagues examined the possible role for automated screening in primary care offices using an interactive voice response tool. Understanding that screening for alcohol misuse is strongly recommended but grossly underused in primary care settings, the researchers developed an automated screening tool.

The tool uses interactive voice response to identify alcohol misuse in outpatient primary care offices. The researchers also wanted to evaluate its use rate and acceptability for both patients and providers.

There were 101 participants in the study. Each were scheduled for nonemergent health care visits and called the IVR Screen by using a dedicated telephone in the waiting room. The participants answered five questions about their health.

Results were printed immediately for the patient and provider to review during the scheduled visit. The participants were interviewed by medical assistants in the examination room to determine their satisfaction in using the IVR Screen.

The results of the study show that 96 percent of patients invited to participate in the IVR Screen consented to do so. Of the patients that participated, 26 percent met the criteria for alcohol misuse.

Feedback from patients and providers was generally positive and included constructive suggestions for possible improvements to the screenings.

The results of the study indicate that IVR Screening may be a valuable tool to implement into the practices of primary care providers to identify patients who meet criteria for alcohol misuse. The researchers found that the screening did not interfere with patient-provider interactions.

The study’s findings show that IVR Screening may be a beneficial tool for use in doctors’ offices to determine whether health problems or symptoms may originate in the misuse of alcohol. Screenings can also help healthcare providers intervene before an alcohol misuse problem escalates.