Background: The aim of the study was to explore alcohol consumption and drinking patterns among primary health care patients in relation to their complaints as presented to the nurse in the reception at the health care centre. A model for identifying clinically meaningful groups of patients to be included in systematic screening for hazardous alcohol consumption was empirically tested.
Methods : The study was conducted at two primary health care centres in a large city in the county of Ostergiitland in southern Sweden. All patients 16 years or older visiting the health care centres during a 2-week period, received a questionnaire concerning their complaints and alcohol habits when registering at the reception. The patients returned the completed questionnaires in sealed boxes before leaving the health care centre. A model for identifying clinically meaningful patient groups to be included in systematic alcohol screening was developed and applied on the results from the questionmrire.
Results: Among 358 female respondents 10.6% (38 patients) were hazardous drinkers and among the 203 male respondents 20.2% (41 patients). When applying the model on the questionnaire results, it was possible to identify the most optimal patient groups for systematic alcohol screening on basis of the patient's complaints. Among the female respondents the most optimal patient groups to screen were those presenting skin, stomach/bowel, psychological, lung, or urinary tract complaints. Among the males were the patient groups presenting complaints concerning lungs, psychological problems, back, neck or shoulder problems, hypertension or injuries found to be the most optimal. There were, however, no significant differences in the proportion of hazardous drinkers for the different complaints, with the exception of male respondents with lung complaints, where 100% were hazardous drinkers.
Conclusions: As the proportion of hazardous drinkers among primary health care patients within each presented complaint was found to be rather low during the two week study period, it was not possible to make any definite conclusion about an optimal screening strategy. However the model presented may be useful in future research to identify clinically meaningful patient groups to be included in selective screening, although this requires a much larger data collection