Underdiagnosis of alcoholism by residents in an ambulatory medical practice

Richard D. Moore, Faye E. Malitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Alcoholism is a widespread illness which in its early stages can be treated effectively. It is important, therefore, that medical residents be able to diagnose alcoholism prior to end-stage disease and organ damage. To assess the ability of residents to diagnose alcoholism, a survey was conducted of 95 patients from the ambulatory care internal medicine practice of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The patients’ alcohol consumption was measured by a self-report questionnaire, and the patients answered an alcoholism questionnaire, the responses to which have been shown to correlate with alcoholism. The questionnaire contains four questions, one each on cutting down on alcohol consumption, annoyance at criticism of alcohol consumption, guilty feelings about alcohol consumption, and use of alcohol early in the day. The answers to the questionnaire were compared with the residents’ diagnoses of alcoholism on the medical record. Alcoholism was diagnosed by the residents in only 11 of the 20 patients (55 percent) who had given three or more yes answers on the alcoholism questionnaire and in only 14 of the 31 patients (45 percent) who had given two or more yes answers. (Yes answers indicate that patients suffer from alcoholism.) The residents’ diagnosis of alcoholism correlated with signs of physical damage or dependence. These results demonstrate a moderate underdiagnosis of alcoholism by residents in the ambulatory care setting and suggest that diagnosing alcoholism in early stages of the disease should be made a part of the training curriculum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-52
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medical Education
Volume61
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1986

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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