Health Evaluation and Referral Assistant: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Web-Based Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment System to Reduce Risky Alcohol Use Among Emergency Department Patients

J Med Internet Res. 2017 May 1;19(5):e119. doi: 10.2196/jmir.6812.


Background: Computer technologies hold promise for implementing alcohol screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT). Questions concerning the most effective and appropriate SBIRT model remain.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of a computerized SBIRT system called the Health Evaluation and Referral Assistant (HERA) on risky alcohol use treatment initiation.

Methods: Alcohol users (N=319) presenting to an emergency department (ED) were considered for enrollment. Those enrolled (n=212) were randomly assigned to the HERA, to complete a patient-administered assessment using a tablet computer, or a minimal-treatment control, and were followed for 3 months. Analyses compared alcohol treatment provider contact, treatment initiation, treatment completion, and alcohol use across condition using univariate comparisons, generalized estimating equations (GEEs), and post hoc chi-square analyses.

Results: HERA participants (n=212; control=115; intervention=97) did not differ between conditions on initial contact with an alcohol treatment provider, treatment initiation, treatment completion, or change in risky alcohol use behavior. Subanalyses indicated that HERA participants, who accepted a faxed referral, were more likely to initiate contact with a treatment provider and initiate treatment for risky alcohol use, but were not more likely to continue engaging in treatment, or to complete treatment and change risky alcohol use behavior over the 3-month period following the ED visit.

Conclusions: The HERA promoted initial contact with an alcohol treatment provider and initiation of treatment for those who accepted the faxed referral, but it did not lead to reduced risky alcohol use behavior. Factors which may have limited the HERA's impact include lack of support for the intervention by clinical staff, the low intensity of the brief and stand-alone design of the intervention, and barriers related to patient follow-through, (eg, a lack of transportation or childcare, fees for services, or schedule conflicts).

Trial registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number (ISRCTN): NCT01153373; (Archived by WebCite at

Keywords: alcohol consumption; emergency medicine; intervention study; referral and consultation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol Drinking / therapy*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*

Associated data