General practitioners rarely register alcohol abuse in patient medical records
General practitioners rarely record alcohol abuse in a patient's medical records. 'This is because many GPs fail to identify alcohol abuse in patients,' says PhD candidate Latifa Abidi from Maastricht University (UM). Her research on the registration rates of general practitioners found that less than 1% of patients with an alcohol abuse disorder were registered as such in the primary care registration system. As a result, healthcare providers exchange incomplete information about their patients.
Abidi conducted her study at nine healthcare centres in the city of Eindhoven that employed general practitioners. Of the 2,349 patients, 261 scored positive for an alcohol abuse disorder on a validated questionnaire. To the surprise of the Maastricht researcher, only one patient was registered as having an alcohol abuse disorder in the primary care registration system. 'Failure to register alcohol abuse can have huge public health consequences,' says Abidi. 'As a result, healthcare providers continue to exchange incomplete information, which is incredibly risky. The primary care registration system is also linked to pharmacies and some medication cannot be taken with alcohol.'
According to Abidi, this low registration rate can be largely attributed to GPs failing to identify alcohol abuse in their patients. The Dutch College of General Practitioners drafted an extremely clear and detailed guideline known as the NHG Standard for Problematic Alcohol Use. And for good reason: roughly 10% of the Dutch population has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. So what explains the low registration rates by general practitioners? 'Work pressure definitely plays a role,' says Abidi. 'But this is relative. I believe that an open conversation about a patient's alcohol use is still considered taboo.'
Co-author Marjan van den Akker, associate professor of General Medicine at Maastricht University, agrees with Abidi's rather surprising conclusion. 'This is a problem that general practitioners can play a big role in solving. That's why GP programmes are focusing on ways to identify problematic alcohol use, how to raise the issue with patients and how to give patients the tools they need to reduce their alcohol consumption.' The results of the study among Eindhoven general practitioners was published last week in the scientific journal Current Medical Research and Opinion.