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VCU researchers receive $2.17M to improve treatment and screening for unhealthy alcohol use in Virginia

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Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University have received a $2.17 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to help primary care practices improve screening and counseling for unhealthy alcohol use.

Alex Krist, M.D.
Alex Krist, M.D.

The grant will support 125 primary care practices throughout the state, reaching an estimated 1.25 million Virginians. Alex Krist, M.D., a professor of family medicine in the School of Medicine and vice chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, will lead the research funded by the grant.

“Screening and counseling for unhealthy alcohol use is one of the most poorly delivered counseling services in primary care,” Krist said. “This intervention is designed to target the key problems that prevent primary care from effectively addressing unhealthy alcohol use.”

Unhealthy alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In the past decade, the prevalence of alcohol use disorder has increased from 8.5% to 12.7% of the population, with the greatest increases in women, African Americans and older adults.

“We congratulate Dr. Krist and his team for this exciting work and grant award. This research will address an important health issue in our society with an evidence-based approach to improve patient screening in family medicine broadly,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president for medical affairs at VCU Health System.

Researchers will work to establish an effective screening program that includes staff and clinician training on conducting screening interviews and documenting treatment. The three-year study will determine if there is an increase in screening for unhealthy alcohol use at three and six months for patients who are in intervention practices, compared to those who are in control practices. By the end of the study, all practices (intervention and control) will receive the intervention.

“As an adaptive intervention, we anticipate that the approaches and resources practices need will evolve over the course of the study. Accordingly, the research team will identify factors that predict success and share new patient-centered outcome findings,” Krist said.

The research team includes leadership from the Virginia Center for Health Innovation and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, as well as faculty members from VCU School of Medicine and the Department of Psychology in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.