Healthcare News & Insights

New program IDs potential addicts sooner — and with less awkwardness

Getting patients to answer honestly if they are abusing drugs or alcohol isn’t easy. A new program helps.

The program, Massachusetts Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment program (MASBIRT) helps health care providers identify patients with drug and alcohol problems earlier than traditional interventions would.

The goal is to get them help sooner when it’s less costly and more effective.

A key part of MASBIRT is how patients are asked about their alcohol and drug use.

Every practitioner knows that just asking “Do you use illegal drugs?” or “You don’t abuse alcohol, right?” isn’t the most effective way to get an accurate answer. Patients may be embarrassed to answer honestly, but many don’t realize they have a problem. In fact, research of the people clinicians identified as being addicted or engaging in binging behaviors showed 94% were unaware there was anything unusual about how much/how often they drank or used drugs.

But for many reasons, including not wanting to make the situation more awkward, phrases like those are very common in the exam room.

A provider who’s part of MASBIRT might instead ask, “When was the last time you used street drugs.” That question is more likely to get an answer like “last week.” Once the conversation is started, the practitioner can get a more accurate assessment of the patient’s needs and direct him or her to the program’s other resources.

Earlier studies show that by intervening earlier, each dollar spent on programs like MASBIRT can save $4 in future health costs.

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