Screening for Problem Drinking at the Doctor’s Office Saves Money

A 10-minute screening and talk with a doctor about problem drinking can be extremely cost-effective for the health system, according to a recent review published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

However, only 8.7% of problem drinkers report receiving such screening or advice from their doctors.

The systematic review looked at data from randomized controlled trials of alcohol problem screening and advice by primary care doctors.

According to the research, brief intervention for alcohol is in the top-5 most cost-effective preventive services — coming in equal to or higher than many common screening services like Pap smears and bowel cancer screening.

It was found that more than 1 in 6 problem drinkers who received brief interventions no longer fit the definition of a problem drinker 6 months to 2 years later, a reduction of 17.4%. With one-fourth of people aged 18 to 54 engaging in problem drinking, cutting the numbers by 17.4% is significant.

The review found that each screening and counseling session cost about $10 per patient and saved the health care system about the same amount over 5 years in terms of reduced costs due to accidents, injuries and other alcohol-related health problems. It did not include savings due to possible health benefits of moderate drinking.

“Physicians do not screen for substance use disorders enough or provide brief counseling – even though if they did, many, many people would be spared much misery and illness and cost. So, patients, if the docs won’t bring it up, you should,” advised Alex DeLuca, M.D., former chief and medical director of the Smithers Addiction Treatment and Research Center in New York, who was not involved with the systematic review.

The review appears in the February 2008 issues of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Read the Health Behavior News Service Report:
Doctors Underestimate the Power of Screening for Problem Drinking

Technorati Tags: screening, , , ,