New project aims to make it easier for GPs to screen for alcohol harms

Doug Hendrie

12/09/2019 1:52:35 PM

When does alcohol use become an issue? This new project wants to make it easier for GPs to find out.

Alcoholic drinks
When does alcohol use become a problem?

Detecting the influence of alcohol in patients can be difficult.
The legal drug is widely available and socially common in Australia.
For GPs, that means it can be hard to figure out the relationship between alcohol and other issues like depression, hypertension and cognitive impairment.
A new research project aims to make that process easier with better screening for alcohol harms in general practice.
Led by GP and researcher Dr Liz Sturgiss, the Monash University project will focus on patients with a low income, who are disproportionately affected by alcohol-related harm.  
‘Alcohol overuse can contribute to many different health conditions. It can be difficult to detect when patients are drinking at levels that are harming their health, and that is why the RACGP recommends routine screening for alcohol use in all patients over the age of 15 years,’ Dr Sturgiss told newsGP.
‘There is good evidence that conversations between patients and a GP they trust can mean people drink less.
‘We want to [make] it easier for GPs to talk with their patients about their drinking and its health implications.
‘Alcohol-related harm falls disproportionately on low-income populations, who are also more likely to experience a range of other poor health outcomes. We also know that when healthcare interventions are designed for the general population, then people in low-income groups can miss out on benefiting from it.
‘So this project will focus on patients from low-income groups from the outset so that we can work towards reducing health inequity.’
Dr Sturgiss said conversations around alcohol are not happening enough, which she attributes to GP concerns about potentially offending patients by raising a difficult topic, worries about not having enough to offer, or short consultation times.
The project won funding through the VicHealth Impact Grants program, and will be designed alongside GPs, practise nurses, practice managers and patients.
‘Alcohol is the leading risk factor for death and disability amongst 15–49 year-olds, is perceived as the drug of most concern by the Australian community, and there are more than 1200 deaths each year due to alcohol in Victoria alone,’ Dr Sturgiss said. 
‘GPs are an important part of the solution for reducing alcohol-related harm in the community. GPs consult with 85% of the population each year, including many people living in poverty, and they are a trusted source of health information.’
The project aims to collect follow-up data through text messages.
VicHealth Acting CEO Dr Lyn Roberts believes it is important to screen for alcohol harm, as it is a major risk factor for chronic illnesses and some cancers, including liver, bowel and breast cancer.
‘Alcohol products can be hugely detrimental to our health. In fact, one in five breast cancer cases in Australia are caused by consumption of alcohol products,’ she said. ‘Alcohol products can also damage our communities through family violence, assaults and car accidents.’

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Graeme Banks   13/09/2019 7:30:32 AM

Where are the health warnings on bottles and cans?
Why is sophistication defined by the glass of wine in your hand?

Dr Armando Reyes Sta.Ana   13/09/2019 11:41:25 AM

No alcohol drinks can be healthy and longer life.
Moderate alcohol drinks, be happy and enjoy.
Excess alcohol drinks, be crazy and die young.