Nobody thought it was possible. Could all indoor workplaces in Ireland—including pubs—be made smoke-free? Now, a law enacted in 2004 is seen as a triumph for public health policy worldwide.1
Smoking kills 438,000 people a year in the United States, and 8.6 million have a serious smoking-related illness.2 Research shows many outpatient physicians do not judge it worthwhile to talk with their patients about quitting smoking because they assume they will have no effect. The assumption is that even if patients quit, they will relapse.
Yet ample evidence suggests hospitalists can have a positive effect by intervening during a patient’s hospital visit.
Data also show that an individual will relapse an average of seven times before being able to take the step for the long term. Relapse is a part of the process, each time teaching an individual something about his or her motivation and behavior.
“Doctors who address smoking with patients can double or even triple the chances of their quitting,” says Shawn Ralston, MD, pediatric hospitalist at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, N.M. A few pointed questions and a show of compassion to the patient in the hospital could make a world of difference.
Stephen Liu, MD, MPH, a hospitalist and an assistant program director at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, N.H., has been interested in smoking-cessation interventions since his residency in DHMC’s Leadership Preventive Medicine Residency Program in 2003, where he worked on improving care for pneumonia patients. His efforts took off as a result of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) pay-for-performance measures, which made smoking-cessation counseling a key component of admission and discharge documentation for a number of disease states.
The approach used with adult patients at DHMC is the brainchild of Colleen Warren, a registered nurse on the medicine unit on which Dr. Liu worked.
“The more times that smokers hear the message [about quitting], the more likely they are to try to quit,” says Dr. Liu. “We capitalized on that [point when] we developed a tobacco treatment team in our hospital. The team, which includes two to five motivated nurses, social workers, or care managers in most units of the hospital, pursued training including an online tobacco treatment course through U Mass Medical Center.”
In January 2006, DHMC was awarded a grant from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services to standardize the treatment of hospitalized smokers. This includes conducting tobacco screening, assessing a patient’s readiness to quit, providing brief counseling, documenting the status and stage of change into the electronic medical record, and referring the patient to community resources upon discharge. The funding allowed the institution to support Warren and Dr. Liu as they coordinated the team and its work. These efforts, including counseling, nicotine replacement therapy, and cessation medications, are also available free to DHMC employees.
DHMC is participating in the CMS demonstration project, in which the hospital publicly reports performance measures for several conditions on the CMS Web site. In addition, many more performance measures are publicly reported on the DHMC quality-measures Web site. Although the team initially targeted the intervention to performance measures related to pneumonia and heart failure hospitalizations, they decided to offer interventions to all patients admitted to the hospital. Of these patients, about 20% are smokers, Dr. Liu says.
Because financial support wasn’t available at first and staff time was voluntary, the work was more difficult. Data from a six-month pilot intervention on two inpatient floors at DHMC showed patient assessments increased from 2% to 85%. In addition, the percentage of eligible heart failure and pneumonia patients receiving smoking cessation advice or counseling prior to discharge has risen from 30% before 2005 to 80% to 90%.