Patients’ experiences of alcohol screening and advice in primary care: a qualitative study
Amy O’Donnell, Barbara Hanratty, Bernd Schulte and Eileen Kaner
Background: Despite evidence supporting the effectiveness of alcohol screening and brief advice to reduce heavy drinking, implementation in primary healthcare remains limited. The challenges that clinicians experience when delivering such interventions are well-known, but we have little understanding of the patient perspective. We used Normalization Process Theory (NPT) informed interviews to explore patients’ views on alcohol screening and brief advice in routine primary healthcare. Methods: Semi-structured qualitative interviews with 22 primary care patients who had been screened for heavy drinking and/or received brief alcohol advice were analysed thematically, informed by Normalisation Process Theory constructs (coherence, cognitive participation, collective action, reflexive monitoring). Results: We found mixed understanding of the adverse health consequences of heavy drinking, particularly longerterm risks. There was some awareness of current alcohol guidelines but these were viewed flexibly, depending on the individual drinker and drinking context. Most described alcohol screening as routine, with clinicians viewed as trustworthy and objective. Patients enacted a range of self-regulatory techniques to limit their drinking but perceived such strategies as learned through experience rather than based on clinical advice. However, most saw alcohol advice as a valuable component of preventative healthcare, especially those experiencing co-occurring health conditions. Conclusions: Despite strong acceptance of the screening role played by primary care clinicians, patients have less confidence in the effectiveness of alcohol advice. Primary care-based alcohol brief advice needs to reflect how individuals actually drink, and harness strategies that patients already commonly employ, such as self-regulation, to boost its relevance.