The study specifically targeted individuals with a dependence on alcohol and was titled, “Who Needs Inpatient Detox? Development and Implementation of a Hospitalist Protocol for the Evaluation of Patients for Alcohol Detoxification.”
The new protocol at UNC Hospitals is a one-page flow chart designed to direct clinicians to the best outcome for individual patients. Through a series of questions, a clinician c an determine whether a patient should be admitted to inpatient medical service or safely discharged .
The study, which w as published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine , followed the number of alcohol related admissions at UNC Hospitals for two years.
“We figured out which ones needed to be in the hospital and which ones needed to be outpatient,” Stephens said. “These are the ones that drink heavily enough to get dependent on alcohol and then go through withdrawal.”
Stephens said the hospital saw alcohol-related admissions decrease three patients a month after implementing the new protocol.
“Not a huge change, but if we can send people home to treat them, that will be preferable for everybody,” he said.
Fulton Crews , director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, said the protocol changes how doctors handle alcohol-related admissions.
“Most emergency rooms will treat an alcoholic for their injuries, because they fall,” Crews said. “They don’t go to the emergency room because they are drunk.”
The hospital only treats injuries related to alcoholism, like a broken arm, and not the alcoholism itself, so Crews said patients would often return.
“If you treat the alcoholism in a structured format, the patients are more likely to do better with their alcoholism and don’t come back to the emergency room as often,” Crews said.
The flowchart allows clincians to diagnose alcoholism.
“This will help hospitalists and physicians,” Stephens said. “So when a patients gets admitted to the hospital, we can evaluate how to treat them.”