Background: Few studies have estimated the economic costs and benefits of brief physician advice in managed care settings.
Objective: To conduct a benefit-cost analysis of brief physician advice regarding problem drinking.
Design: Patient and health care costs associated with brief advice were compared with economic benefits associated with changes in health care utilization, legal events, and motor vehicle accidents using 6- and 12-month follow-up data from Project TrEAT (Trial for Early Alcohol Treatment), a randomized controlled clinical trial.
Subjects: 482 men and 292 women who reported drinking above a threshold limit were randomized into control (n = 382) or intervention (n = 392) groups.
Measures: Outcomes included alcohol use, emergency department visits, hospital days, legal events, and motor vehicle accidents.
Results: No significant differences between control and intervention subjects were present for baseline alcohol use, age, socioeconomic status, smoking, depression or anxiety, conduct disorders, drug use, crimes, motor vehicle accidents, or health care utilization. The total economic benefit of the brief intervention was $423,519 (95% CI: $35,947, $884,848), composed of $195,448 (95% CI: $36,734, $389,160) in savings in emergency department and hospital use and $228,071 (95% CI: -$191,419, $757,303) in avoided costs of crime and motor vehicle accidents. The average (per subject) benefit was $1,151 (95% CI: $92, $2,257). The estimated total economic cost of the intervention was $80,210, or $205 per subject. The benefit-cost ratio was 5.6:1 (95% CI: 0.4, 11.0), or $56,263 in total benefit for every $10,000 invested.
Conclusions: These results offer the first quantitative evidence that implementation of a brief intervention for problem drinkers can generate positive net benefit for patients, the health care system, and society.