Background: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse. This study was designed to develop a standardized rating for the clinically preventable burden and cost effectiveness of complying with that recommendation that would allow comparisons across many recommended services.
Methods: A systematic review of the literature from 1992 through 2004 to identify relevant randomized controlled trials and cost-effectiveness studies was completed in 2005. Clinically preventable burden (CPB) was calculated as the product of effectiveness times the alcohol-attributable fraction of both mortality and morbidity (measured in quality-adjusted life years or QALYs), for all relevant conditions. Cost effectiveness from both the societal perspective and the health-system perspective was estimated. These analyses were completed in 2006.
Results: The calculated CPB was 176,000 QALYs saved over the lifetime of a birth cohort of 4,000,000, with a range in sensitivity analysis from -43% to +94% (primarily due to variation in estimates of effectiveness). Screening and brief counseling was cost-saving from the societal perspective and had a cost-effectiveness ratio of $1755/QALY saved from the health-system perspective. Sensitivity analysis indicates that from both perspectives the service is very cost effective and may be cost saving.
Conclusions: These results make alcohol screening and counseling one of the highest-ranking preventive services among the 25 effective services evaluated using standardized methods. Since current levels of delivery are the lowest of comparably ranked services, this service deserves special attention by clinicians and care delivery systems.