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Comparing methods of detecting alcohol-related emergency department presentations
  1. D Indig1,2,
  2. J Copeland3,
  3. K M Conigrave4,5,6
  1. 1
    National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Sydney, Australia
  2. 2
    Centre for Health Research in Criminal Justice, Justice Health, Sydney, Australia
  3. 3
    National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, Sydney, Australia
  4. 4
    Drug Health Services, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, Australia
  5. 5
    Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  6. 6
    National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Sydney, Australia
  1. Ms D Indig, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, 22–32 King Street, Randwick, NSW 2031, Australia; devon.indig{at}


Objectives: To assess the strengths and limitations of different methods for detecting alcohol-related emergency department (ED) presentations and to compare the characteristics of patients who present to the ED with an alcohol-related presentation with ED patients who are found to be risky drinkers by a questionnaire.

Methods: Survey at two Sydney Australia ED over four weekends of 389 patients. Alcohol-related presentations were identified using a range of methods and were compared with presentations in ED patients who reported risky drinking using the alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT).

Results: Overall, 20% of ED patients had alcohol-related presentations and 28% were identified as risky drinkers by AUDIT. Diagnostic codes detected only 7% of all alcohol-related ED presentations, compared with 34% detected by nursing triage text, 60% by medical record audits and 69% by self-report. Among risky drinkers, just over half (51%) were not attending for an alcohol-related reason, whereas among alcohol-related ED presentations, nearly a third (31%) were not identified as risky drinkers by AUDIT.

Conclusions: Not all patients with an alcohol-related ED presentation usually drink at risky levels, nor do all risky drinkers present to the ED for an alcohol-related reason. The use of routinely recorded nursing triage text detects over a third of alcohol-related ED presentations with no additional burden on busy clinicians. As these data are potentially readily accessible, further research is needed to evaluate their validity for the detection of alcohol-related ED presentations.

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  • Funding: This study was funded by the New South Wales Department of Health.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: Ethics approval to conduct the study was received from the New South Wales Department of Health, University of New South Wales and the ethics committees that oversee research in the two study hospitals.

  • Patient consent: Obtained.