Implementing SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment) in primary care: Lessons learned from a multipractice evaluation portfolio

Daniel Hargraves, Christopher White, Rachel Frederick, Margaret Cinibulk, Meriden Peters, Ashlee Young, Nancy Elder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Background: Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is a public health framework approach used to identify and deliver services to those at risk for substance-use disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions. Primary care is the first entry to the healthcare system for many patients, and SBIRT offers potential to identify these patients early and assist in their treatment. There is a need for pragmatic "best practices" for implementing SBIRT in primary care offices geared toward frontline providers and office staff. Methods: Ten primary care practices were awarded small community grants to implement an SBIRT program in their location. Each practice chose the conditions for which they would screen, the screening tools, and how they would provide brief intervention and referral to treatment within their setting. An evaluation team communicated with each practice throughout the process, collecting quantitative and qualitative data regarding facilitators and barriers to SBIRT success. Using the editing method, the qualitative data were analyzed and key strategies for success are detailed for implementing SBIRT in primary care. Results: The SBIRT program practices included primary care offices, federally qualified health centers, school-based health centers, and a safety-net emergency department. Conditions screened for included alcohol abuse, drug abuse, depression, anxiety, child safety, and tobacco use. Across practices, 49,964 patients were eligible for screening and 36,394 pre-screens and 21,635 full screens were completed. From the qualitative data, eight best practices for primary care SBIRT are described: Have a practice champion; Utilize an interprofessional team; Define and communicate the details of each SBIRT step; Develop relationships with referral partners; Institute ongoing SBIRT training; Align SBIRT with the primary care office flow; Consider using a pre-screening instrument, when available; and Integrate SBIRT into the electronic health record. Conclusions and implications: SBIRT is an effective tool that can empower primary care providers to identify and treat patients with substance use and mental health problems before costly symptoms emerge. Using the pragmatic best practices we describe, primary care providers may improve their ability to successfully create, implement, and sustain SBIRT in their practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number31
JournalPublic Health Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • Alcohol abuse
  • Brief Intervention
  • Primary care
  • Referral to Treatment)
  • SBIRT (Screening
  • Substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Community and Home Care
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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