Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 340–344 | Cite as

Interactive Voice Response Technology Can Deliver Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention in Primary Care

  • Gail L. RoseEmail author
  • Charles D. MacLean
  • Joan Skelly
  • Gary J. Badger
  • Tonya A. Ferraro
  • John E. Helzer
Original Article



Alcohol screening and brief intervention (BI) is an effective primary care preventive service, but implementation rates are low. Automating BI using interactive voice response (IVR) may be an efficient way to expand patient access to needed information and advice.


To develop IVR-based BI and pilot test it for feasibility and acceptability.


Single-group pre-post feasibility study.


Primary care patients presenting for an office visit.


IVR-BI structured to correspond to the provider BI method recommended by NIAAA: (1) Ask about use; (2) Assess problems; (3) Advise and Assist for change, and (4) Follow up for continued support. Advice was tailored to patient readiness and preferences.


Utilization rate, call duration, and patients’ subjective reports of usefulness, comfort and honesty with the IVR-BI. Pre-post evaluation of motivation to change and change in alcohol consumption as measured by Timeline Follow Back.


Call duration ranged from 3–7 minutes. Subjective reactions were generally positive or neutral. About 40% of subjects indicated IVR-BI had motivated them to change. About half of the patients had discussed drinking with their provider at the visit. These tended to be heavier drinkers with greater concerns about drinking. Patients who reported a provider-delivered BI and called the IVR-BI endorsed greater comfort and honesty with the IVR-BI. On average, a 25% reduction in alcohol use was reported two weeks after the clinic visit.


Using IVR technology to deliver BI in a primary care setting is feasible and data suggest potential for efficacy in a larger trial.


alcohol screening brief intervention primary care IVR technology 



We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Megan Malgeri in gathering the IVR-screen pre-test data.

We also would like to thank Dee Scheidel and all the staff at Given Essex for collaborating on this study.

This research was supported by NIAAA grant 1 R21 AA015777-01A1.

An abstract of this study was presented at a poster session at the Society of General Internal Medicine annual meeting, Miami, FL, May, 2009. This research was also presented as part of a symposium at the Research Society on Alcoholism annual meeting, San Diego, CA, June, 2009.

Conflict of Interest

None disclosed.

Supplementary material

11606_2009_1233_MOESM1_ESM.doc (38 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 37 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gail L. Rose
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charles D. MacLean
    • 1
  • Joan Skelly
    • 1
  • Gary J. Badger
    • 1
  • Tonya A. Ferraro
    • 1
  • John E. Helzer
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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