Dr. Ralston says what she has learned from motivational interviewing—and how she counsels parents of hospitalized children differently because of it—primarily pertains to her willingness to talk to people about a difficult subject. Instead of bombarding parents with facts about how smoking is bad for their children—which they already believe but don’t want to talk about—she learned to focus on the parents’ needs instead of the effects on the child.
“And there is the issue of bringing it up when this is not technically your patient,” she says. But after fine-tuning and developing her technique, she now assumes a value-neutral, nonjudgmental, open-ended approach using motivational interviewing. “Eventually it becomes easy to do.”
When approaching a parent to offer help, says Dr. Ralston, “I will lead by acknowledging that the experience the parent is having is extremely stressful. Then, after addressing the primary illness of the child and what the plan is for that, I say, ‘I see [from our records] that you are smoking. Have you tried to quit? Are you interested in quitting now? What might I be able to do to help you?’ If there is an opening, then I’ll go into more extensive counseling.
“You don’t need all the data behind you. I use my expertise more to motivate pediatricians, not the parents.” Another tack she takes to motivate pediatricians to empathically address smoking is to ask them to think of something they do that they know is bad for them but that they continue to do.
“There have been some studies that have shown [disappointing] outcomes when we intervene with hospitalized patients, but I’m more optimistic,” says Dr. Liu. “I feel that as long as we can make a difference in some people’s lives and get them to quit after they leave the hospital, then it’s worth the effort.”
Look at what you are willing to do, advises Dr. Ralston. “If that is a brief message and then a referral to a quit line, that’s fabulous,” she says. “You still might double the quit rate.” Given the temporal nature of the hospitalist-patient relationship, there may be a good number of ways hospitalists could effect change by offering a few encouraging words. TH
Andrea Sattinger is a frequent contributor to The Hospitalist.
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