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Berger D, Lapham GT, Shortreed SM, Hawkins EJ, Rubinsky AD, Williams EC, Achtmeyer CE, Kivlahan DR, Bradley KA. Increased Rates of Documented Alcohol Counseling in Primary Care: More Counseling or Just More Documentation?. Journal of general internal medicine. 2018 Mar 1; 33(3):268-274.
BACKGROUND: Clinical performance measures often require documentation of patient counseling by healthcare providers. Little is known about whether such measures encourage delivery of counseling or merely its documentation. OBJECTIVE: To assess changes in provider documentation of alcohol counseling and patient report of receiving alcohol counseling in the Veterans Administration (VA) from 2009 to 2012. DESIGN: Retrospective time-series analysis. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 5413 men who screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use at an outpatient visit and responded to a confidential mailed survey regarding alcohol counseling from a VA provider in the prior year. MAIN MEASURES: Rates of provider documentation of alcohol counseling in the electronic health record and patient report of such counseling on the survey were assessed over 4 fiscal years. Annual rates were calculated overall and with patients categorized into four mutually exclusive groups based on their own reports of alcohol counseling (yes/no) and whether alcohol counseling was documented by a provider (yes/no). KEY RESULTS: Provider documentation of alcohol counseling increased 23.6% (95% CI: 17.0, 30.2), from 59.4% to 83.0%, while patient report of alcohol counseling showed no significant change (4.0%, 95% CI: -2.3, 10.3), increasing from 66.1% to 70.1%. An 18.7% (95% CI: 11.7, 25.7) increase in the proportion of patients who reported counseling that was documented by a provider largely reflected a 14.7% decline (95% CI: 8.5, 20.8) in the proportion of patients who reported alcohol counseling that was not documented by a provider. The proportion of patients who did not report counseling but whose providers documented it did not show a significant change (4.9%, 95%CI: 0.0, 9.9). CONCLUSIONS: If patient report is accurate, increased rates of documented alcohol counseling in the VA from 2009 to 2012 predominantly reflected improved documentation of previously undocumented counseling rather than delivery of additional counseling or increased documentation of counseling that did not meaningfully occur.