A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine concludes that doctors are missing drinking problems in nearly three out of four patients because they do not perform alcohol screening.
More than 1,500 patients were asked to complete questionnaires which included five alcohol questions; 94 clinicians from 40 different primary care practices were recruited for the cross-sectional study. Of the 171 patients that that had positive screening test for hazardous drinking and 64 for harmful drinking, the clinicians suspected alcohol problems in only 81 patients.
The researchers observed that when clinicians relied on suspicion instead of using a screening instrument, they missed almost three out of four patients who screened positive for alcohol problems.
“I hope that by papers like this, it’s going to be a nudge to physician to say … ‘Maybe I should start screening.’ It’s not that hard to do,” study author Dr. Daniel Vinson, professor of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, Missouri, told CNN.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends clinicians to screen all adults 18 and older and pregnant women for alcohol misuse and provide individuals engaged in risky or hazardous drinking with brief behavioral counseling interventions to reduce alcohol misuse. But Dr. Dave Mersey, a family physician in Tucson, Arizona, said the procedure is generally not part of routine primary care. Still, experts say asking patients a few questions about their drinking habits can lead to interventions that may help them cut back on their risky behavior.