Implementing routine cognitive screening of older adults in primary care: Process and impact on physician behavior

Soo Borson, James Scanlan, Jeffrey Hummel, Kathy Gibbs, Mary Lessig, Elizabeth Zuhr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Early detection of cognitive impairment is a goal of high-quality geriatric medical care, but new approaches are needed to reduce rates of missed cases. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether adding routine cognitive screening to primary care visits for older adults increases rates of dementia diagnosis, specialist referral, or prescribing of antidementia medications. SETTING: Four primary care clinics in a university-affiliated primary care network. DESIGN: A quality improvement screening project and quasiexperimental comparison of 2 intervention clinics and 2 control clinics. The Mini-Cog was administered by medical assistants to intervention clinic patients aged 65+ years. Rates of dementia diagnoses, referrals, and medication prescribing were tracked over time using computerized administrative data. RESULTS: Twenty-six medical assistants successfully screened 70% (n=524) of all eligible patients who made at least 1 clinic visit during the intervention period; 18% screened positive. There were no complaints about workflow interruption. Relative to baseline rates and control clinics, Mini-Cog screening was associated with increased dementia diagnoses, specialist referrals, and prescribing of cognitive enhancing medications. Patients without previous dementia indicators who had a positive Mini-Cog were more likely than all other patients to receive a new dementia diagnosis, specialty referral, or cognitive enhancing medication. However, relevant physician action occurred in only 17% of screen-positive patients. Responses were most related to the lowest Mini-Cog score level (0/5) and advanced age. CONCLUSION: Mini-Cog screening by office staff is feasible in primary care practice and has measurable effects on physician behavior. However, new physician action relevant to dementia was likely to occur only when impairment was severe, and additional efforts are needed to help primary care physicians follow up appropriately on information suggesting cognitive impairment in older patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-817
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: This study was funded by an investigator-initiated grant from Ortho McNeil (GAL-ALZ-419). Jürgen Unutzer MD, MPH, made valuable comments on the draft. Sherry Neher assisted with manuscript preparation.


  • Clinic intervention
  • Dementia screening
  • Mini-Cog
  • Practice intervention
  • Primary care


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