A randomized clinical trial of the Health Evaluation and Referral Assistant (HERA): Research methods

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Substance-Related Disorders; Mass Screening; Therapy, Computer-Assisted; Internet


Emergency Medicine | Health Information Technology | Health Services Administration | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry | Substance Abuse and Addiction


The Health Evaluation and Referral Assistant (HERA) is a web-based program designed to facilitate screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) for tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse. After the patient completes a computerized substance abuse assessment, the HERA produces a summary report with evidence-based recommended clinical actions for the healthcare provider (the Healthcare Provider Report) and a report for the patient (the Patient Feedback Report) that provides education regarding the consequences of use, personally tailored motivational messages, and a tailored substance abuse treatment referral list. For those who provide authorization, the HERA faxes the individual's contact information to a substance abuse treatment provider matched to the individual's substance use severity and personal characteristics, like insurance and location of residence (dynamic referral). This paper summarizes the methods used for a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the HERA's efficacy in leading to increased treatment initiation and reduced substance use. The study was performed in four emergency departments. Individual patients were randomized into one of two conditions: the HERA or assessment only. A total of 4269 patients were screened and 1006 participants enrolled. The sample was comprised of 427 tobacco users, 212 risky alcohol users, and 367 illicit drug users. Forty-two percent used more than one substance class. The enrolled sample was similar to the eligible patient population. The study should enhance understanding of whether computer-facilitated SBIRT can impact process of care variables, such as promoting substance abuse treatment initiation, as well as its effect on subsequent substance abuse and related outcomes.

DOI of Published Version



Contemp Clin Trials. 2013 July;35(2):87-96. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2013.04.010. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Contemporary clinical trials

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID