Routine alcohol screening is widely recommended, and Medicare now reimburses for annual alcohol screening. Although up to 18% of patients will screen positive for alcohol misuse, the value of annual rescreening for patients who repeatedly screen negative is unknown.
To evaluate the probability of converting to a positive alcohol screen at annual rescreening among VA outpatients who previously screened negative 2–4 times.
Retrospective cohort study.
A total of 179,035 VA outpatients (10,588 women) who previously screened negative on 2 and up to 4 consecutive annual alcohol screens and were rescreened the next year.
AUDIT-C alcohol screening scores (range, 0–12) were obtained from electronic medical record data. The probability of converting to a positive screen (scores: men ≥4; women, ≥3) at rescreening after 2–4 prior negative screens was evaluated overall and across subgroups based on age, sex, and prior negative screen scores (scores: men, 0–3; women, 0–2).
The overall probability of converting to a positive subsequent screen decreased modestly from 3.5% to 1.9% as the number of prior consecutive negative screens increased from 2 to 4, yet varied widely across subgroups based on age, sex, and prior negative screen scores (0.6%–38.7%).
The likelihood of converting to a positive screen at annual rescreening is strongly influenced by age, sex, and scaled screening scores on prior negative alcohol screens. Algorithms for the frequency of repeat alcohol screening for patients who repeatedly screen negative should be based on these factors. These results may have implications for other routine behavioral health screenings.