Alcohol Screening During US Primary Care Visits, 2014–2016

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Background: Unhealthy alcohol use is a significant health issue for the US population. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening adults 18 years or older for unhealthy alcohol use during primary care visits. Objectives: To evaluate alcohol screening among ambulatory visits made by US adult primary care patients and identify characteristics predictive of alcohol screening. Design: A series of cross-sectional analysis of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) data collected from 2014 to 2016 was used to examine US primary care providers’ use of alcohol screening questionnaires and delivery of counseling on alcohol use. Participants: A total of 19,213 visits made by patients aged 18 years or older to a US primary care physician trained in family medicine or internal medicine. Main Measures: Administration of a validated alcohol screening questionnaire and counseling/education on alcohol use. Variation in alcohol screening by patient demographic characteristics, reason for office visit, length of office visit, chronic medical conditions, evaluation by assigned primary care physician, new patient to practice, and region. Key Results: Alcohol screening with a validated questionnaire occurred during 2.6% (95% Cl: 0.9%, 4.3%) of visits. Alcohol counseling, provided either by the physician or by referral, was documented in 0.8% (95% Cl: 0.3%, 1.3%) of visits. Screening was significantly more likely if patients were seen by their assigned primary care physician (adjOR 4.38 (95% Cl: 1.41, 13.61)), a new patient to the practice (adjOR 4.18 (95% Cl: 2.30, 7.79)), or had several chronic medical conditions (adjOR 3.40 (95% Cl: 1.48, 7.78)). Patients’ sex, race/ethnicity, age group, or length of appointment time was not associated with screening for unhealthy alcohol use. Conclusions: Screening for unhealthy alcohol use using a validated questionnaire is uncommonly performed during US primary care visits. Interventions or incentives may be needed to increase uptake of USPSTF alcohol screening recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • alcohol screening
  • primary care
  • unhealthy alcohol use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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