Background: Despite evidence-based guidelines, brief alcohol screening and counseling have not been routinely integrated into most primary care practices in the United States.
Objective: To describe the results of the implementation of evidence-based alcohol screening by the Veterans Health Administration (VA) in 2004, as the first step toward implementation of brief alcohol counseling.
Study design: This observational study of outpatients from all 21 VA networks relied on the following 2 data sources from the VA Office of Quality and Performance: (1) Medical record reviews, designed to compare VA networks quarterly, evaluated whether established VA patients had documented screening for alcohol misuse and documented follow-up assessment for alcohol use disorders among those who screened positive for alcohol misuse (January-March 2005); and (2) Mailed patient satisfaction surveys from 2004, which oversampled patients new to the VA (response rate, >70%), included the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) questions and asked about past-year advice "to drink less or not to drink alcohol" from a VA provider.
Results: Based on 10 115 medical record reviews, 93% (range, 89%-96% across networks) of outpatients were screened for alcohol misuse, and 25% (range, 11%-36%) screened positive. Among screen-positive patients, 42% (range, 5%-84%) had documented follow-up assessment, but absolute numbers of screen-positive patients evaluated were small (27-80 patients per network). Based on 235 481 patient surveys, the prevalence of alcohol misuse was 22% (range, 15%-27% across networks), and 28% (range, 20%- 36%) of screen-positive patients reported receiving alcohol-related advice. Alcohol-related advice increased as AUDIT-C scores increased.
Conclusion: The VA successfully implemented evidence-based alcohol screening, but the rate of follow-up among screen-positive patients remained low.