Objectives: To determine the incidence of alcohol use in subcritically injured patients presenting to the ED, by using a saliva alcohol test (SAT) at ED triage during the ED initial assessment; to compare the incidence of alcohol use revealed by the SAT with documentation of alcohol use by ED nurses and emergency physicians (EPs) blinded to the SAT results; and to describe the demographics of the SAT-positive, subcritically injured population.
Methods: A blinded, prospective, observational evaluation of ED patients presenting with subcritical injuries was performed. The patients were tested for alcohol use with an SAT, and a subsequent record review was conducted for extraction of demographic data and evidence of documentation of alcohol use by ED nurses and EPs blinded to the SAT results.
Results: During the study, 791 subcritically injured patients had SATs performed. Twenty-one percent of these patients were found to be alcohol-positive by SAT. Either the ED nurse or the EP documented a clinical impression of alcohol use for 52% of the SAT-positive patients. There were higher SAT-positive rates among men (24%), victims of assault (47%), and patients arriving at night (41%).
Conclusions: While the SAT identified 21% of the subcritically injured patient population as alcohol-positive, ED nurse and EP documentation did not identify half of these alcohol-positive patients. Many of these patients may be at risk for additional injuries related to their drinking behavior.