Practice facilitation to promote evidence-based screening and management of unhealthy alcohol use in primary care: a practice-level randomized controlled trial

BMC Fam Pract. 2020 May 20;21(1):93. doi: 10.1186/s12875-020-01147-4.


Background: Unhealthy alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Evidence demonstrates that screening for unhealthy alcohol use and providing persons engaged in risky drinking with brief behavioral and counseling interventions improves health outcomes, collectively termed screening and brief interventions. Medication assisted therapy (MAT) is another effective method for treatment of moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. Yet, primary care clinicians are not regularly screening for or treating unhealthy alcohol use.

Methods and analysis: We are initiating a clinic-level randomized controlled trial aimed to evaluate how primary care clinicians can impact unhealthy alcohol use through screening, counseling, and MAT. One hundred and 25 primary care practices in the Virginia Ambulatory Care Outcomes Research Network (ACORN) will be engaged; each will receive practice facilitation to promote screening, counseling, and MAT either at the beginning of the trial or at a 6-month control period start date. For each practice, the intervention includes provision of a practice facilitator, learning collaboratives with three practice champions, and clinic-wide information sessions. Clinics will be enrolled for 6-12 months. After completion of the intervention, we will conduct a mixed methods analysis to identify changes in screening rates, increase in provision of brief counseling and interventions as well as MAT, and the reduction of alcohol intake for patients after practices receive practice facilitation.

Discussion: This study offers a systematic process for dissemination and implementation of the evidence-based practice of screening, counseling, and treatment for unhealthy alcohol use. Practices will be asked to implement a process for screening, counseling, and treatment based on their practice characteristics, patient population, and workflow. We propose practice facilitation as a robust and feasible intervention to assist in making changes within the practice. We believe that the process can be replicated and used in a broad range of clinical settings; we anticipate this will be supported by our evaluation of this approach.

Trial registration:, Identifier: NCT04248023, Registered 5 February 2020.

Keywords: Preventive care; Primary care; Risk reduction; SBIRT; Unhealthy alcohol use.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders* / etiology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism* / complications
  • Alcoholism* / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism* / drug therapy
  • Alcoholism* / psychology
  • Counseling / organization & administration*
  • Evidence-Based Practice / methods
  • Female
  • Health Risk Behaviors
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / organization & administration*
  • Medication Therapy Management / organization & administration*
  • Physician's Role
  • Physicians, Family
  • Preventive Health Services* / methods
  • Preventive Health Services* / organization & administration
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Quality Improvement

Associated data