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JMIR Res Protoc. 2013 Sep 20;2(2):e36. doi: 10.2196/resprot.2697.

Development of an electronic alcohol screening and brief intervention program for hospital outpatients with unhealthy alcohol use.

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School of Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia.



Alcohol screening and brief intervention is recommended for widespread implementation in health care systems, but it is not used routinely in most countries for a variety of reasons. Electronic screening and brief intervention (e-SBI), in which patients complete a Web-based questionnaire and are provided with personalized feedback on their drinking, is a promising alternative to practitioner delivered intervention, but its efficacy in the hospital outpatient setting has not been established.


The objective of our study was to establish the feasibility of conducting a full-scale randomized controlled trial to determine whether e-SBI reduces alcohol consumption in hospital outpatients with hazardous or harmful drinking.


The study was conducted in the outpatient department of a large public hospital in Newcastle (population 540,000), Australia. Adults with appointments at a broad range of medical and surgical outpatient clinics were invited to complete an e-SBI program on a laptop, and to report their impressions via a short questionnaire. Follow-up assessments were conducted 2-8 weeks later by email and post.


We approached 172 outpatients and 108/172 (62.8%) agreed to participate. Of the 106 patients capable of self-administering the e-SBI, 7/106 (6.6%) did not complete it (3 due to technical problems and 4 because they were called for their appointment), 15/106 (14.2%) indicated that they had not consumed any alcohol in the past 12 months, 43/106 (40.6%) screened negative for unhealthy alcohol use (scored less than 5 on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test Consumption [AUDIT-C] questions), 33/106 (31.1%) screened positive for hazardous or harmful drinking (AUDIT-C score 5-9), and 8/106 (7.5%) screened positive for possible alcohol dependence (AUDIT-C score 10-12). Among the subgroup with hazardous or harmful drinking, 27/33 (82%) found the feedback on their drinking very, quite, or somewhat useful, 33/33 (100%) thought the intervention would appeal to most or some of the people who attend the service, and 22/30 (73%) completed the follow-up. We also found that some well established procedures used in trials of e-SBI in the primary care setting did not translate to the hospital outpatient setting (1) we experienced delays because the e-SBI program had to be developed and maintained by the health service's information technology staff for security reasons, (2) recruiting patients as they left the reception desk was impractical because patients tended to arrive at the beginning of the clinics with few arrivals thereafter, and (3) use of a laptop in a fixed location resulted in some patients rushing through the e-SBI so they could return to their seat in the area they had been advised to wait in.


e-SBI is acceptable to outpatients and with some adaptation to organizational and physical conditions, it is feasible to recruit and screen patients and to deliver the intervention without disrupting normal service provision. This suggests that e-SBI could be provided routinely in this important setting if shown to be efficacious.


Internet; alcohol; brief intervention; drinking; hospital; outpatients; screening

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