The researchers wanted to investigate what happened if, in ED, some of the adolescents (whose average age was 16 years and seven months) received a brief visit from a counsellor who offered advice about treatment services available and even volunteered to accompany them there if they wanted. The other half received the normal ED care and were discharged when they were well enough. The adolescents were in three WA hospitals.
After 12 months, all the adolescents were followed up by the researchers, who found that the group who had the brief counselling intervention had less subsequent admissions to ED for alcohol and substance issues.
A decade later, the adolescents – now aged from 22 to 29 – will be followed up again in a study undertaken by The University of Western Australia, Curtin University and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
Winthrop Professor Gary Hulse, of UWA’s School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, was part of the original intervention and 12-month follow-up studies and is looking forward to being part of the team to analyse the data on the young patients this time round.
By accessing Health Department records that include inpatient and outpatient admissions, midwifery, cancers, accidents, injuries and death, the researchers will be able to determine whether the intervention 10 years ago made a long-term difference to the young people’s lives.
They will also work out whether the intervention – which was quick and as minimally disruptive as possible to the running of the ED at the time – might have continuing benefits such as saving the community health dollars.
“There is what is known as a ‘teachable moment’,” Professor Hulse said. “We want to know if the intervention came at a teachable moment and whether it changed the adolescents’ behaviour evidenced by reduced hospital admissions. If we find that the brief intervention had lasting benefits by getting people to treatment services, then we can say it was a useful catalyst that could affect people’s productivity and lifestyle.”
The study is funded by a grant from the WA Department of Health.