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Northwell, nonprofit release app to help identify substance abuse by patients

The app is designed to guide health care providers in conversations with patients about potentially problematic patterns of drug or alcohol use, a Northwell executive says.

Dr. Sandeep Kapoor is director of screening, brief

Dr. Sandeep Kapoor is director of screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) at Northwell Health. Photo Credit: Northwell Health

Northwell Health and the Center on Addiction have released a new app that helps health care providers identify patients with substance abuse disorders.

The app is designed to guide providers through difficult conversations with patients about their use of drugs and alcohol.  

"Most health care professionals have very little dedicated education about substance abuse, and that is a huge problem," said Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, director of screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) at Northwell Health. "Anything we can do to humanize this topic, we need to do it. We need to understand it."

Kapoor said one in four people who start using drugs, alcohol or tobacco before age 18 have a problem.

"And one in seven Americans have a substance abuse problem, and this shadows cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer," he said. "There is obviously a spectrum there, but there is a journey there."

About 54 percent of respondents to a Siena Research Institute poll of 1,400 New Yorkers in April said they have been touched by the opioid drug epidemic, and 80 percent said the country is in the middle of an opioid epidemic. 

Northwell and the Center on Addiction invested about $200,000 in federal grant money to build the app, which has been in development for about three years, Kapoor said. 

The SBIRT for Health Professionals app offers a standardized,  streamlined set of questions to use with the patient to help find potentially problematic patterns of drug or alcohol use. 

If the answers identify a moderate to high level of risk for health or social problems due to substance use, the app guides health care professionals in how to speak to patients about their readiness to change their lifestyles and set new goals.

The app also supports the provider in discussions with patients regarding referrals to substance abuse disorder treatment, when appropriate.

The app, which is for tablets only, is available for iOS. Versions for Android and laptops are planned. It can be downloaded from the Apple App Store for free. A health care professional doesn't need to be affiliated with Northwell to use the app.

"We created this app so it would be widely used," Kapoor said. "Let's humanize this conversation."

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health is the largest private employer in New York with 66,000 employees.

The Center on Addiction, formerly the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, is a Manhattan-based nonprofit that focuses on what it calls "America's deadly addiction crisis."

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