Objective: To explore the suitability of a screening based intervention for excessive alcohol use by describing the experiences of general practitioners who tried such an intervention in their everyday practice.
Design: Qualitative interviews with general practitioners who had participated in a pragmatic study of a combined programme of screening and a brief intervention for excessive alcohol use. Doctors were interviewed either individually or in focus groups. A computer based, descriptive, phenomenological method was used to directly analyse the digitally recorded interviews.
Setting and participants: 24 of 39 general practitioners in four Danish counties who volunteered to take part in the pragmatic study were interviewed.
Results: The doctors were surprised at how difficult it was to establish rapport with the patients who had a positive result on the screening and to ensure compliance with the intervention. Although the doctors considered the doctor-patient relationship robust enough to sustain targeting of alcohol use, they often failed to follow up on initial interventions, and some expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to counsel patients effectively on lifestyle issues. The doctors questioned the rationale of screening in young drinkers who may grow out of excessive drinking behaviour. The programme needed considerable resources, and it interrupted the natural course of consultations and was inflexible. The doctors could not recommend the screening and brief intervention programme, although they thought it important to counsel their patients on drinking.
Conclusions: Screening for excessive alcohol use created more problems than it solved for the participating doctors. The results underline the value of carrying out pragmatic studies on the suitability of seemingly efficacious healthcare programmes.