The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued a recommendation for primary care clinicians to screen all adult patients for unhealthy alcohol use, and to provide brief behavioral counseling interventions to patients who drink too much.
But reducing dangerous drinking will also require stronger clinical evidence, more knowledge and resources to support physician practice, and wider social and structural change, two Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers write in an editorial accompanying the USPSTF recommendation in JAMA.
“Patients expect a drinking checkup, and it is time for clinicians, with support, to provide it,” write Dr. Angela Bazzi, assistant professor of community health sciences, and Richard Saitz, professor of community health sciences, at BUSPH.
The USPSTF has recommended screening all adult patients, including those who are pregnant, for unhealthy alcohol use for many years, but implementation has remained low. Only one in six patients in the US reports having discussed alcohol with their physician, and rates are similarly low in Europe.
Dr. Bazzi and Dr. Saitz note that research showing benefits from this kind of screening and intervention has been limited to self-reporting by patients, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the strategy. Still, Dr. Bazzi and Dr. Saitz argue that the USPSTF recommendation is worth following because it may reduce risks and is unlikely to cause harm: “Even small behavior changes could improve population-level health outcomes.”
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