• Article

Start-up costs of SBIRT implementation for adolescents in urban U.S. federally qualified health centers

OBJECTIVE: Understanding the costs to implement Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) for adolescent substance use in primary care settings is important for providers in planning for services and for decision makers considering dissemination and widespread implementation of SBIRT. We estimated the start-up costs of two models of SBIRT for adolescents in a multisite U.S. Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). In both models, screening was performed by a medical assistant, but models differed on delivery of brief intervention, with brief intervention delivered by a primary care provider in the generalist model and a behavioral health specialist in the specialist model.

METHOD: SBIRT was implemented at seven clinics in a multisite, cluster randomized trial. SBIRT implementation costs were calculated using an activity-based costing methodology. Start-up activities were defined as (a) planning activities (e.g., changing existing electronic medical record system and tailoring service delivery protocols); and (b) initial staff training. Data collection instruments were developed to collect staff time spent in start-up activities and quantity of nonlabor resources used.

RESULTS: The estimated average costs to implement SBIRT were $5,182 for the specialist model and $3,920 for the generalist model. Planning activities had the greatest impact on costs for both models. Overall, more resources were devoted to planning and training activities in specialist sites, making the specialist model costlier to implement.

CONCLUSIONS: The initial investment required to implement SBIRT should not be neglected. The level of resources necessary for initial implementation depends on the delivery model and its integration into current practice.


Barbosa, C., Wedehase, B., Dunlap, L., Mitchell, S. G., Dusek, K., Schwartz, R. P., ... Brown, B. S. (2018). Start-up costs of SBIRT implementation for adolescents in urban U.S. federally qualified health centers. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(3), 447-454. https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2018.79.447

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