Health services use and mortality among older primary care patients with alcoholism

C M Callahan, W M Tierney
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 1995, 43 (12): 1378-83

OBJECTIVE: To describe the prevalence of alcoholism in an older primary care population and to compare rates of health services use and mortality among those with and those without evidence of alcoholism.

DESIGN: Baseline screening for alcoholism using the CAGE questionnaire and longitudinal assessment of health services use and mortality using an electronic medical record system.

SETTING: An academic primary care group practice at an urban ambulatory care clinic.

PATIENTS: A total of 3954 patients aged 60 and older who completed the CAGE alcoholism screening questionnaire during routine office visits.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Comorbidity, preventive health services use, hospital episodes and length of stay, emergency room visits, ambulatory care visits, total outpatient charges, and mortality.

RESULTS: The prevalence of current evidence of alcoholism, as defined by a CAGE score > or = 2 and alcohol use in the previous 12 months, was 10.6%. Patients with evidence of alcoholism were younger (66.2 vs 68.3 years), had fewer years of education (8.4 vs 9.1), were more likely to be male (65.8 vs 27.2%), black (71.2 vs 62.6%), smokers (40.4 vs 26.3%), and malnourished (32.5 vs 26.3%). Patients with alcoholism were more likely to have a diagnosis of obstructive lung disease (22.9 vs 18.3%), injuries (14.2 vs 8.3%), and gout (6.7 vs 2.9%) and less likely to have a diagnosis of hypertension (56.9 vs 61.8%), arthritis (23.3 vs 29.3%), and diabetes (15.9 vs 23.3%). Among those with evidence of alcoholism, 41.6% had a diagnosis of alcoholism in their outpatient medical record. Rates of completion of preventive health services did not differ between the two groups, and there was no difference in the number of ambulatory care visits, emergency room visits, or total outpatient charges. Patients with evidence of alcoholism were more likely to be hospitalized (21.5 vs 16.9%) and more likely to die within 2 years (10.6% vs 6.3%).

CONCLUSIONS: One of 10 older patients in this primary care practice had current evidence of alcoholism, fewer than half of whom had documentation of alcohol abuse in their medical records. These patients were more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to die but did not consume a greater amount of outpatient resources. Further research is needed to determine if interventions to reduce alcohol use would also reduce excess hospitalizations and mortality among these older patients.

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