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Evaluation of the appropriate use of a CIWA-Ar alcohol withdrawal protocol in the general hospital setting.

BACKGROUND: The Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment-Alcohol, Revised (CIWA-Ar) is an assessment tool used to quantify alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) severity and inform benzodiazepine treatment for alcohol withdrawal.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the prescribing patterns and appropriate use of the CIWA-Ar protocol in a general hospital setting, as determined by the presence or absence of documented AWS risk factors, patients' ability to communicate, and provider awareness of the CIWA-Ar order.

METHODS: This retrospective chart review included 118 encounters of hospitalized patients placed on a CIWA-Ar protocol during one year. The following data were collected for each encounter: patient demographics, admitting diagnosis, ability to communicate, and admission blood alcohol level; and medical specialty of the clinician ordering CIWA-Ar, documentation of the presence or absence of established AWS risk factors, specific parameters of the protocol ordered, service admitted to, provider documentation of awareness of the active protocol within 48 h of initial order, total benzodiazepine dose equivalents administered and associated adverse events.

RESULTS: 57% of patients who started on a CIWA-Ar protocol had either zero or one documented risk factor for AWS (19% and 38% respectively). 20% had no documentation of recent alcohol use. 14% were unable to communicate. 19% of medical records lacked documentation of provider awareness of the ordered protocol. Benzodiazepine associated adverse events were documented in 15% of encounters.

CONCLUSIONS: The judicious use of CIWA-Ar protocols in general hospitals requires mechanisms to ensure assessment of validated alcohol withdrawal risk factors, exclusion of patients who cannot communicate, and continuity of care during transitions.

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