Comparing methods of detecting alcohol-related emergency department presentations

D Indig, J Copeland, K M Conigrave
Emergency Medicine Journal: EMJ 2009, 26 (8): 596-600

OBJECTIVES: To assess the strengths and limitations of different methods for detecting alcohol-related emergency department (ED) presentations and to compare the characteristics of patients who present to the ED with an alcohol-related presentation with ED patients who are found to be risky drinkers by a questionnaire.

METHODS: Survey at two Sydney Australia ED over four weekends of 389 patients. Alcohol-related presentations were identified using a range of methods and were compared with presentations in ED patients who reported risky drinking using the alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT).

RESULTS: Overall, 20% of ED patients had alcohol-related presentations and 28% were identified as risky drinkers by AUDIT. Diagnostic codes detected only 7% of all alcohol-related ED presentations, compared with 34% detected by nursing triage text, 60% by medical record audits and 69% by self-report. Among risky drinkers, just over half (51%) were not attending for an alcohol-related reason, whereas among alcohol-related ED presentations, nearly a third (31%) were not identified as risky drinkers by AUDIT.

CONCLUSIONS: Not all patients with an alcohol-related ED presentation usually drink at risky levels, nor do all risky drinkers present to the ED for an alcohol-related reason. The use of routinely recorded nursing triage text detects over a third of alcohol-related ED presentations with no additional burden on busy clinicians. As these data are potentially readily accessible, further research is needed to evaluate their validity for the detection of alcohol-related ED presentations.

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