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Mobile App Helps Screen for Substance Abuse

SBIRT tablet app

SBIRT tablet app (PRNewsfoto/Northwell Health)

11 May 2018. A mobile app written for computer tablets was designed by a New York medical center to help clinicians screen patients for signs of addiction or substance abuse, and refer individuals for treatment. The app known as SBIRT for Health Professionals is a product of the Center on Addiction at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York.

Alcohol and drug abuse continues to be serious public health problem in the U.S. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports 20.1 million people in the U.S., age 12 and above, have a substance use disorder. That number includes 2.1 million with opioid addictions, both from prescription pain killers and heroin. In addition, more than 65 million Americans report binge alcohol use in the previous month during 2016, as well as more than 16 million individuals who call themselves heavy drinkers, defined as binge drinking in 5 of the previous 30 days.

SBIRT — short for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment — is a diagnostic process for physicians and other health care providers who are often the first clinicians to encounter individuals needing help with addictions, not just an acronym for a mobile app. Public health authorities encourage clinicians at primary care centers, hospital emergency rooms, trauma centers, and other community settings to engage at-risk patients to assess the severity of their substance abuse, identify appropriate treatment options, and refer the individual for more extensive treatment if needed.

The problem, says Sandeep Kapoor, Northwell Health’s director of SBIRT and a faculty member at Hostra University medical school affiliated with Northwell, is most clinicians have little training in this process when they encounter at-risk patients. “On average,” says Kapoor in a Northwell statement, “doctors in the U.S. have had less than two hours of dedicated training on the topic of substance use, and less than that on substance use disorder.”

Kapoor adds, “Clinical team members have to be able to comfortably start the conversation with their patients, and this app will empower them to do that.” The SBIRT app presents a standardized set of questions for health care professionals designed to identify problematic drug or alcohol use. The interactive program enables clinicians to guide the discussion into readiness of the individual to change lifestyles and chart a new direction, if previous responses indicate moderate to high risk of health or social problems from substance abuse. And if appropriate, the app can provide referrals for substance abuse treatments.

In April 2018, the web site cited SBIRT for Health Professionals as its best new app for that week. The app is available only in iOS for Apple tablets, and can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store. Northwell says Android and laptop versions of the app are planned.

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