Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment in the Emergency Department: An Examination of Health Care Utilization and Costs

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Background:There is increasing interest in deploying screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) practices in emergency departments (ED) to intervene with patients at risk for substance use disorders. However, the current literature is inconclusive on whether SBIRT practices are effective in reducing costs and utilization.Objective:This study sought to evaluate the health care costs and health care utilization associated with SBIRT services in the ED.Research Design:This study analyzed downstream health care utilization and costs for patients who were exposed to SBIRT services within an Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, ED through a program titled Safe Landing compared with 3 control groups of ED patients (intervention hospital preintervention, and preintervention and postintervention time period at a comparable, nonintervention hospital).Subjects:The subjects were patients who received ED SBIRT services from January 1 to December 31 in 2012 as part of the Safe Landing program. One control group received ED services at the same hospital during a previous year. Two other control groups were patients who received ED services at another comparable hospital.Measures:Measures include total health care costs, 30-day ED visits, 1-year ED visits, inpatient claims, and behavioral health claims.Results:Results found that patients who received SBIRT services experienced a 21% reduction in health care costs and a significant reduction in 1-year ED visits (decrease of 3.3 percentage points).Conclusions:This study provides further support that SBIRT programs are cost-effective and cost-beneficial approaches to substance use disorders management, important factors as policy advocates continue to disseminate SBIRT practices throughout the health care system.

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