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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Techniques to Shorten a Screening Tool for Emergency Department Patients


Introduction: Screening of patients for opioid risk has been recommended prior to opioid prescribing. Opioids are prescribed frequently in the emergency department (ED) setting, but screening tools are often of significant length and therefore limited in their utility. We describe and evaluate three approaches to shortening a screening tool: creation of a short form; curtailment; and stochastic curtailment.

Methods: To demonstrate the various shortening techniques, this retrospective study used data from two studies of ED patients for whom the provider was considering providing an opioid prescription and who completed the Screener and Opioid Assessment for Patients with Pain-Revised, a 24-item assessment. High-risk criteria from patients’ prescription drug monitoring program data were used as an endpoint. Using real-data simulation, we determined the sensitivity, specificity, and test length of each shortening technique.

Results: We included data from 188 ED patients. The original screener had a test length of 24 questions, a sensitivity of 44% and a specificity of 76%. The 12-question short form had a sensitivity of 41% and specificity of 75%. Curtailment and stochastic curtailment reduced the question length (mean test length ranging from 8.1-19.7 questions) with no reduction in sensitivity or specificity.

Conclusion: In an ED population completing computer-based screening, the techniques of curtailment and stochastic curtailment markedly reduced the screening tool’s length but had no effect on test characteristics. These techniques can be applied to improve efficiency of screening patients in the busy ED environment without sacrificing sensitivity or specificity.

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