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Unhealthy alcohol use and brief intervention rates among high and low complexity veterans seeking primary care services in the Veterans Health Administration.

Jia-Richards M, Williams EC, Rosland AM, Boudreaux-Kelly MY, Luther JF, Mikolic J, Chinman MJ, Daniels K, Bachrach RL. Unhealthy alcohol use and brief intervention rates among high and low complexity veterans seeking primary care services in the Veterans Health Administration. Journal of substance use and addiction treatment. 2023 Sep 1; 152:209117.

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INTRODUCTION: Brief intervention (BI) is recommended for all primary care (PC) patients who screen positive for unhealthy alcohol use; however, patients with multiple chronic health conditions who are at high-risk of hospitalization (i.e., "high complexity" patients) may face disparities in receiving BIs in PC. The current study investigated whether high complexity and low complexity patients in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) differed regarding screening positive for unhealthy alcohol use, alcohol-use severity, and receipt of BI for those with unhealthy alcohol use. METHODS: Patients were veterans receiving PC services at the VHA in a mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The study extracted VHA administrative and clinical data for a total of 282,242 patients who had 1 PC visits between 1/1/2014 and 12/31/2014, during which they were screened for unhealthy alcohol use by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C). The study defined high complexity patients as those within and above the 90th percentile of risk for hospitalization per the VHA's Care Assessment Need Score. Logistic regression models assessed if being a high complexity patient was associated with screening positive for unhealthy alcohol use (AUDIT-C   5), severity of unhealthy alcohol use in those who screened positive (AUDIT-C score range 5-12), and receipt of BI in those who screened positive. RESULTS: Our sample was 94.5% male, 83% White, 13% Black, 4% other race, and 1.7% Hispanic. A total of 10,813 (3.8%) patients screened positive for unhealthy alcohol use from which we identified 569 (5.3%) high complexity and 10,128 (93.6%) low complexity patients (n  =  116 removed due to missing complexity data). Relative to low complexity patients, high complexity patients were less likely to screen positive for unhealthy alcohol use (3.3% vs. 4.1%, AOR  =  0.59, p  <  .001); however, in patients who screened positive, high complexity patients had higher AUDIT-C scores (Mean AUDIT-C  =  7.75 vs. 6.87, AOR  =  1.46, p  <  .001) and were less likely to receive a BI (78.0% vs. 92.6%, AOR  =  0.42, p  <  .001). CONCLUSIONS: Disparities in BI exist for highly complex patients despite having more severe unhealthy alcohol use. Future research should examine the specific patient- and/or clinic-level factors impeding BI delivery for complex patients.

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