Health Risk Screening Tools

Health Risk Screening Tools, or HRSTs, are diagnostic tools that help professionals identify potential medical risks. These tools are essential in the field of behavioral health, as they can help health care professionals better care for people with mental health issues or intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many people appreciate HRSTs due to their high sensitivity and specificity, which means that the tools are well-tested and can correctly identify risks with a low occurrence of false positives. 

These qualities make HRSTs extremely important in health care, as professionals can use them to identify potential health risks and develop plans to prevent or mitigate them. Below is some additional information on common HRSTs in the field of behavioral health.

HSRTs in Behavioral Health

As HRSTs can help providers identify harmful behaviors or the potential for a person with disabilities to develop additional well-being issues, they’re essential for behavioral and mental health care. When someone has mental health issues, it’s crucial to detect signs of potential further harm as early as possible. This way, providers can intervene promptly and offer appropriate aid to help ensure their safety. For example, screenings that focus on lifestyle behaviors, such as physical activity assessments and stress management evaluations, can give providers insights into how to help people with conditions like eating disorders or substance abuse problems.

When using HRSTs to care for people with behavioral or mental health issues, providers can easily track the progress of treatments and make changes to health care plans as necessary. For example, if a patient tries a new form of therapy and the HRST shows positive effects after a short period, the provider can recommend a higher frequency of appointments in that type of therapy to encourage more progress. 

These tools also help health care professionals identify mental health issues in people who haven’t been diagnosed yet. This can allow them to find and recommend treatments that may be effective, depending on the problems they see signs of. Here are a few standard HRSTs that professionals can use to evaluate behavioral or mental health:

Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT, is a screening tool that uses a brief to evaluate a person’s use of alcohol. This evaluation allows providers to identify signs of alcohol abuse based on the answers people give during self-reported assessments or interviews with professionals. Whether someone opts for the interview version that a clinician administers or the self-reporting version that they complete on their own, they can get helpful answers about what they need to pay attention to regarding alcohol use. 

One detail that the AUDIT considers is the number of drinks someone consumes per day and per week. This tool also asks how early in the day someone feels the need to have their first drink. There’s also a section that provides illustrated examples of different types of alcoholic drinks and asks for the number of those specific beverages a person typically consumes.

Drug Abuse Screening Test

The Drug Abuse Screening Test, or DAST-10, is another tool that evaluates a person’s potential substance abuse issues. This evaluation focuses on the use of drugs, including tranquilizers, barbiturates, stimulants, and narcotics, such as opioids. Like the AUDIT, providers can offer this evaluation in either an interview or a self-reporting format, allowing people to complete their test in the way that’s most comfortable for them.

This tool uses a questionnaire to learn about a person’s drug use so a professional can determine whether they may have a problem with excessive use. For example, the test asks whether someone has ever abused prescription drugs, whether drug abuse has led to issues with people close to them, and whether they’ve lost a job or faced discipline at work due to drug use.

Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription Medication, and Other Substance Use Tool

The Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription medication, and other Substance use Tool, or TAPS, is a comprehensive evaluation tool that considers a person’s substance abuse. Unlike the AUDIT and the DAST-10 tools, which focus on specific substances and exclude those in different categories, the TAPS screening looks at the use of alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, and other drugs together. This can help professionals identify overarching substance abuse issues that may exacerbate each other if left untreated for too long. People can complete the TAPS screening independently using a self-reporting format or with a health professional through an in-person interview.

This screening has two parts: a quick assessment and a more in-depth brief. Once someone completes both parts, they receive a score that indicates a risk level for substance abuse for each type of substance they answer questions about. On this scale, a score of zero indicates no use in the past three months, a score of one indicates potential for problematic use, and a score of two or higher warns of high risk. 

The questions a person answers during this screening can cover details such as how frequently they’ve used a substance over the past year and how heavy their use has been over the past three months. There are also questions about behaviors related to each substance’s use, which can help providers identify the potential for health risks.


There are a few different Patient Health Questionnaires, or PHQs, that providers can use to screen for mental health conditions. One of these is the PHQ-9, which evaluates signs of depression. It uses nine questions to identify depression in people and gauge how severe their symptoms are to determine their potential risk for other health or behavioral issues. While there are other depression screening tools that use longer evaluations, the PHQ-9 is often a preferred method since its questions can evaluate many of the same characteristics as more extended tests in a shorter amount of time.


Another HRST that focuses closely on mental health is the GAD-7 screening. This test helps providers identify signs of generalized anxiety disorder in people and measure the severity of their anxiety levels to determine how it may impact their overall health and behavior. This tool asks participants to rank how often they experience seven specific anxious thoughts, ranging from “not at all” to “nearly every day,” with a few options in between. Providers can use the results of this screening to recommend interventions and treatments for people, such as therapy and medication.

For example, one question the GAD-7 screening asks is how often someone feels nervous, anxious, or on edge. This can indicate the base level of someone’s anxiety. There are also questions about having difficulty relaxing, becoming easily annoyed, and feeling afraid of a hypothetical traumatic event.

HRSTs in Intellectual or Developmental Disability Care

There are also a variety of HRSTs designed to help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. People with these types of disabilities can experience various challenges that affect their everyday lives, such as poor health, stunted emotional or social growth, and difficulty with hygiene and personal care. Due to this, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities can experience higher rates of health problems, such as chronic conditions, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

Here are a few HRSTs that professionals use in intellectual or developmental disability care: 

Support Intensity Scale

The Support Intensity Scale offers a variety of screening tools that are personalized to cater to specific groups, such as adults and children. These screenings allow professionals to measure how intensely someone needs support in different areas. Then, they can recommend specialized treatments and therapies that may prevent further health risks and mitigate challenges that people face due to their disabilities.

Inventory for Client and Agency Planning

The Inventory for Client and Agency Planning assessment helps to identify and assess the severity of needs in people with developmental disabilities. This screening evaluates details such as a person’s motor skills, social skills, personal living skills, and community engagement to determine how much additional support they may need to thrive. Then, professionals use the results to determine what type of aid a person requires so they can recommend other specialists for care and secure funding from the state for advanced or long-term support.

Final Thoughts

HRSTs are valuable diagnostic resources that professionals in health care can use to help people with behavioral and mental health issues, such as intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s crucial for health care providers to remain updated about these tools, as they can use them in various ways to improve patient outcomes. There’s also a significant potential for experts to continue research on HRSTs and use technological advancements to refine the health screening process even further, which is another reason providers must keep up with HRSTs and their benefits.