Available Now! New Toolkit to Help Health Plans Improve Care for Unhealthy Alcohol Use

Did you know that unhealthy alcohol use accounts for 1 of every 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years and costs $249 billion a year? Unhealthy alcohol use is also associated with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and breast cancer, but the majority of adults who use alcohol in an unhealthy way do not need treatment and are not dependent on alcohol. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that despite these adverse health consequences and disease burden, many do not receive treatment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need to screen for unhealthy alcohol use.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s MMWR weekly report, many adults have reported increased use or initiation of substance use including alcohol use and/or have experienced elevated mental health conditions associated with the pandemic’s social isolation, stress and financial strains.  According to market research firm Nielsen, there was a 55% increase in alcohol sales in March 2020 when compared to the same time the previous year.

Given these findings, and as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2018, primary care providers need to take strategic action by screening all adults 18 years of age and older, including pregnant women, for unhealthy alcohol use and intervening with those who screen positive. Further, CDC data indicates that many US adults who drink in unhealthy ways report that they have not received recommendations to reduce their alcohol consumption.

A new resource is available to help health plans ensure that providers are equipped to screen for unhealthy alcohol use in an evidenced-based way.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) is pleased to announce the release of Screening and Follow-Up for Unhealthy Alcohol Use: Quality Improvement Change Package for Health Plans, a toolkit to help health plans address unhealthy alcohol use among their members and improve reporting of the HEDIS alcohol measure using electronic clinical data.

This toolkit is rich with successful strategies and resources from a three-year Learning Collaborative with health plans, which NCQA conducted with funding from the CDC and SAMHSA. It was updated throughout the Learning Collaborative as additional ideas, resources and best practices were identified.

What’s inside this toolkit?

  • Effective strategies guided by experts and thought leaders in the field of alcohol screening and brief intervention.
  • Best practices for improving measure performance from health plan innovators in electronic clinical data systems (ECDS) reporting.
  • Examples of real-world implementation of quality improvement methods and tools.
  • Guidance for reporting the HEDIS alcohol measure using ECDS.
  • Up-to-date evidence on the effectiveness of alcohol screening and brief intervention.

What can health plans do?

Health plans are in a unique position to improve the quality of care for individuals with unhealthy alcohol use by helping their providers increase their capacity to provide preventive alcohol screening and brief intervention in primary care. As outlined in the toolkit, the Learning Collaborative identified a number of successful strategies such as:

  1. Improving standardized documentation of information on unhealthy alcohol use
  2. Engaging with key stakeholders (e.g., providers, electronic health record vendors, data aggregators) to enable efficient sharing of information on alcohol use
  3. Using telemedicine to conduct unhealthy alcohol use screening and brief intervention or counseling
  4. Providing available resources on brief counseling and treatment of unhealthy alcohol use

Download the Toolkit here for additional strategies, evidence-based practices, and resources to improve care for unhealthy alcohol use.

How are you using the Toolkit? What additional information would be helpful? Please contact our team and let us know! alcohollearningcollaborative@ncqa.org

Get more information at the Collaborative’s Web page.