New HEDIS Measure Strengthens Alcohol Screening and Follow Up

How Often Are Doctors Asking Patients, “How Much Do You Drink?”

May 8, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC—Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death, but when it comes to screening for alcohol use and providing the right follow-up care, there is large gap in care.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that clinicians “screen adults aged 18 and older for alcohol misuse and provide persons engaged in risky or hazardous drinking with brief behavioral counseling interventions to reduce alcohol misuse.”

The National Committee on Quality Assurance (NCQA) researched this issue and found a shortage of screening for misuse of alcohol. Additionally, we found that when screenings do take place, many patients who need help are not identified or followed-up with appropriately. However there are strategies, such as the routine use of recommended screening tools, to improve this and ensure that health systems and providers are equipped to help.

NCQA and FEi Systems, with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), developed a measure for alcohol screening and follow-up. The Unhealthy Alcohol Use Screening and Follow-Up (ASF) measure is part of the Health Effectiveness Data Information Set 2018 (HEDIS®) and is the first measure to evaluate unhealthy alcohol use screening and follow-up care for adults in the health plan population. It is also one of the first HEDIS measures to be reported using electronic clinical data collected at the point of care.

“Health plans have a unique role in assisting members to get the help they need. This measure is an important tool for health plans to gauge how often clinicians ask patients about alcohol use and how often they follow up appropriately,” said Margaret E. O’Kane, NCQA President. “It helps to set a benchmark from where we can improve. Our work and countless other studies indicate this is a serious issue that calls for a response.”

With funding from SAMHSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through FEi Systems, NCQA is forming the ASF Learning Collaborative, a quality improvement learning collaborative of health plans to work on adding this measure to their quality performance matrix.

“It is important for Americans to know that people recover from substance use disorders when they receive appropriate treatment,” said SAMHSA Assistant Secretary Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz.  “This HEDIS measure will facilitate the kinds of discussions between clinicians and patients that can be a starting point for patients finding appropriate treatment and getting into recovery.”

“Excessive alcohol use causes 88,000 deaths a year and can lead to health problems including cancers in adults and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in babies exposed in pregnancy,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S.Hyg, Director, CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.  “Healthcare providers and patients can work together to reduce this risk and save lives.  We look forward to this collaboration with SAMHSA, NCQA, and FEi Systems.”

Following the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s quality improvement model, the ASF Learning Collaborative will help collect and share data on screening and follow-up approaches plans use to improve the management of alcohol misuse. This Learning Collaborative will include bimonthly sharing and coaching webinars with other participating health plans and in-person meetings where health plans will share experiences.More information can be found on the Collaborative’s web page. If you are interested in joining the Collaborative, contact our team at

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