Rheumatology Clinics Find Success With Smoking Cessation Referral Program

Steve Cimino

April 09, 2021

A new protocol designed to help patients in rheumatology clinics quit smoking proved both efficient and effective in referring willing participants to free tobacco quit lines.

Dr Christie Bartels

"Rheumatology visits provide a unique opportunity to address smoking as a chronic modifiable risk factor in populations at high risk for cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and rheumatic disease progression," wrote Christie M. Bartels, MD, chief of the division of rheumatology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and colleagues. The study was published in Arthritis Care & Research.

To assess the effectiveness of implementing a smoking cessation protocol for patients with rheumatic diseases, the researchers launched a quasi-experimental cohort study in which their Quit Connect protocol was tested at three rheumatology clinics. Adapting the Ask, Advise, Connect primary care protocol to a new setting, nurses and medical assistants were trained to use electronic health record (EHR) prompts that would check if patients who smoked were ready to quit within 30 days, advise them to do so, and then use electronic referrals to connect them to state-run tobacco quit lines. An extended baseline period – October 2012 to March 2016 – was compared to a 6-month intervention period from April to October 2016.

Across 54,090 pre- and postimplementation rheumatology clinic visits, 4,601 were with current smokers. Demographics were similar across both periods: The mean age of the patients was 51 years, about two-thirds were female, and 85% were White.

Clinicians' assessment of tobacco use before and after implementation of the program stayed steady at 96% of patient visits, but the percentage of tobacco users' visits that included checking for readiness to quit within the next 30 days rose from 3% (135 of 4,078) to 80% (421 of 523).

Before the implementation of the program, 0.6% of eligible visits with current smokers included a quit-line referral offer. After implementation, 93 (18%) of the 523 smokers who visited – 122 of whom said they were ready to quit – were offered referrals, a 26-fold increase. Of the 93 offered referrals, 66 (71%) accepted and 16 set a quit date or reported having quit; 11 accepted counseling services and nicotine replacement.

Although clinic staff reported encountering several obstacles, such as the need to craft nonthreatening language for challenging patients, they also contributed their own talking points that were included in the EHR tools and desktop brochures. On average, the protocol took less than 90 seconds to perform.

Rheumatologists Can Make Headway on Patients Quitting Smoking

"While smoking cessation programs require time and resources to implement, this study suggests a role for evidence-based protocols within rheumatology centers," Medha Barbhaiya, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said in an interview. "Given that current smokers are at an increased risk of developing more severe rheumatic disease and cardiovascular disease, and patients often visit their rheumatologist multiple times yearly, rheumatologists may be well-positioned to address smoking cessation with patients."

In regard to next steps, she noted that "while future large studies in diverse cohorts are needed to confirm these findings, implementing a formal smoking cessation protocol within rheumatology centers may provide a unique opportunity for rheumatologists to directly help patients modify their disease risk, leading to improved health outcomes."

The authors acknowledged their study's limitations, including the fact that it was a prepost design and not a randomized trial. They also recognized that many tobacco users require 8-10 attempts before permanently quitting, likely lessening the lasting impact of the short-term study. They did cite expert analysis, however, that says "connecting patients to evidence-based resources makes them more likely to permanently quit."

The study was supported in part by Pfizer's office of Independent Grants for Learning and Change and by a grant collaboration from the University of Wisconsin Clinical and Translational Science Award and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health's Wisconsin Partnership Program, through the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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