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CDT Testing Detects Patients' Drinking Levels

Test Could Cut Health Care Costs for Chronically Ill

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Updated December 23, 2007

Updated December 23, 2007
An alcohol-screening test that measures carbohydrate deficient transferrin in the blood can detect patients' drinking habits and potentially could lower the cost of care for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The alcohol biomarker test, known as a CDT test, increases the number of problem drinkers detected in primary care patients, but researchers say that many primary care physicians do not know about the CDT technology.

Michael Fleming, M.D., and his colleagues estimated that CDT testing could result in $212.30 in overall savings per patient by helping healthcare providers avoid some medical and legal costs. Medicare reimburses about $26 for the CDT test, which is approved by the FDA.

CDT is not a test for alcoholism and does not detect whether a patient is dependent on alcohol, Fleming said, but it can detect if a patient has consumed four to five alcoholic drinks at one time within the past two weeks.

Fleming said if the test shows a pattern of harmful drinking, doctors can address their patient's heavy alcohol consumption. The CDT test is most helpful in patients who have alcohol-sensitive conditions, such as diabetes.

Fleming said cost savings came from decreases in hospitalization, fewer accidents and trauma incidents, and a reduction in emergency room visits, Fleming said. The cost savings are realized within about four years after the test, according to a benefit-cost model developed from data surveys, published literature and two clinical trials.

Long-Term Payoff

"Compared to other things -- like bypass surgery or (the cholesterol-lowering drug) Lipitor -- 48 months isn't a long time to get some kind of payoff," Fleming said. "That's a benefit for a company that has a long-term commitment to a patient – it may not be for a patient that's changing insurance companies every year."

Source: Fleming's findings were published in the November 2005 edition of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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