Unique Program Helps Practice Respond to Patients’ Unhealthy Alcohol Use

Date: January 25th, 2021Category: CORHIO e-NewsletterTopics: Healthcare Quality Improvement


CORHIO-led expert training, enhanced screenings as part of the FAST program are improving how Denver Family Medicine identifies and addresses excessive drinking in its adult patients.

Individuals who consume excessive amounts of alcohol don’t only put their short- and long-term health in jeopardy, they’re also at greater risk for dying, according the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, the CDC lists excessive drinking as the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Here in Colorado, the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment cites that one in five adults drink too much, which leads to an average of five deaths per each day.

In 2020, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) launched an initiative to assist primary care settings in addressing this deadly problem, funding programs in Colorado and five other states.

CORHIO was selected to assist practices in the state who enrolled in the nine-month program called Facilitating Alcohol Screening and Treatment (FAST). Denver Family Medicine, a private family practice, was one of the first to sign on, and began participating in June 2020.

“We have partnered with CORHIO in the past and this time was no different, they were very helpful every step of the way,” says Dr. DeAun Gehring, a family physician at Denver Family Medicine and practice co-lead for the FAST program. We definitely appreciate guidance from the experts.”

She says timing of the grant program was appropriately timed, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the tendency for individuals to use more alcohol during stressful times.

Morgan Whiteman, MSW, the practice’s behavioral health provider who co-leads the program with Gehring, agrees.

“People are really having a hard time to the point, they feel like they don’t have any other outs. What started out as a glass of wine at night has become two or three and slowly progressed to misuse,” she says. “The amount of alcohol considered excessive surprises people. FAST helps us better identify patients struggling with alcohol abuse or misuse who might not even know they have a problem.”

Using enhanced screening and training to uncover alcohol misuse

As part of the program, CORHIO’s Senior Healthcare Quality Improvement Advisor Leslie Taylor trained Denver Family Medicine staff and providers on screening for alcohol misuse, interventions and Medicated Assisted Treatment, and referral to treatment when necessary.

“During the expert training we received, staff learned the best way to talk to people about alcohol abuse, plus education on treatment and access to a lot of resources,” Whiteman says. “There’s a strong stigma around alcohol abuse, and the training taught how to not be biased or judgmental with a patient and how to change our tone or message which helps patients will be more honest.

A practice that embraces technology, Denver Family Medicine has now embedded online screenings for alcohol use into the patient check-in process. If a patient is identified for potential misuse in a preliminary screening, they are directed to a more detailed screening which alerts the provider.

Bringing the problem ‘to the forefront’

CORHIO also helps Denver Family Medicine track and report on program data, including how many patients screen positive for misuse, interventions and referrals to treatment.

Alcohol misuse before FAST Program (October-December 2019)

Alcohol misuse with FAST Program (September-November 2020)

Positive: 31

Positive: 71

Intervention: 15

Intervention: 71

Referral to specialty treatment: 4

Referral to specialty treatment: 3


“There were certainly a lot of patients that screened positive, but I was anticipating alcohol use as a common coping strategy during the pandemic,” Gehring says. “The program helped take something that we suspected was a problem and brought it to the forefront, allowing us to address it more frequently.”

Although the grant portion of FAST is coming to a close, Gehring says Denver Family Medicine will continue to incorporate many components of the program within the practice.

Adds Whiteman, “Overall, we are catching more things before patients are going to the ER, and we’re educating more people and learning how to communicate better. It has been very beneficial for us as we continually seek to improve the overall quality of care we deliver to our patients.”