Diagnosis on Demand

An illustrated smartphone, set against a blue background, features a red plus sign icon and green check mark icon on its screen.

An unfortunate truth of health care: When need exceeds access, communities go unserved. However, there’s a positive prognosis for those suffering from substance use disorder. Researchers at the IU School of Medicine have expanded an online screening tool that removes the first barrier to treatment: diagnosis.

“Appropriate substance use disorder treatment begins with accurate assessments, but staff shortages, lack of training, and limited access to traditional assessment resources all present obstacles to accurate diagnoses,” explained Leslie Hulvershorn, associate professor of psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine and project leader.

Originally used for mental health assessments, the online test now includes an evaluation of substance use throughout a patient’s life. After a few brief questions, the screening is complete, and results are sent to a health care professional for analysis.

A woman wearing a doctor's lab coat smiles while pointing to a smartphone being held by a young woman standing to her left.
The new screening tool “provides accurate substance use disorder diagnoses without the need for a trained clinician,” explained Leslie Hulvershorn (right), and can accurately predict results in less than four minutes. Photo courtesy of Leslie Hulvershorn

Officially called the Computerized Adaptive Test for Substance Use Disorder Expanded, the online assessment makes an evidence-based evaluation that’s comparable to an exam in a clinical setting. Moreover, the screening’s discretion (there’s no doctor present) might also prompt patients to provide more honest and forthcoming information on their substance-use history.

According to Hulvershorn, the online test “has the potential to improve identification of individuals with substance use disorders across settings without extensive efforts to hire and train more clinical staff and should substantially decrease the amount of time spent conducting assessments.”

In other words, the tool brings substance use screenings to the screens of those who need them most.

And that puts diagnosis—and ultimately treatment—closer within reach.

To support the life-saving research at the IU School of Medicine, contact the Office of Gift Development and Alumni Relations at iumed@iu.edu or 317-274-3270.

This article was originally published in the 2022 issue of Imagine magazine.

Written By
A. Price
A resident of the Hoosier state since grade school, Alex forged a friendship with “tried and true” IU upon becoming a writer at the IU Foundation.