Offering Tobacco Cessation Services

By Weiss, Gail Garfinkel | Medical Economics, August 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Offering Tobacco Cessation Services

Weiss, Gail Garfinkel, Medical Economics


More than four decades after the first report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in the United States. According to 2010 figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 46.6 million adults in the United States smoke, despite the fact that upward of 443,000 people die from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year. Another 8.6 million have a serious tobacco-related illness.

Smoking cessation treatment and counseling, however, haven't been top concerns for many physicians because presenting problems take priority, patient behavior often relapses, and reimbursement-especially if the patient did not have a tobacco-related condition- has been paltry to nonexistent That calculus is changing, however: Medicare recently began paying doctors for helping patients kick a nicotine habit even if the tobacco use hasn't yet resulted in illness, and some private insurers have jumped on that bandwagon. Moreover, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, stipulates that all health plans must cover tobacco cessation treatment and counseling by 2014.

Here's how to set up a tobacco cessation service that benefits both your patients and your practice.


If you're going to facilitate smoking cessation, you'll be more effective if you follow a step-by-step model, says Sarah Mullins, MD, a family physician with Stoney Batter Family Medicine, a six-physician practice in Wilmington, Delaware. Mullins, a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Tobacco Cessation Advisory Council, recommends the AAFP's Ask and Act program (see "Resources" for information about programs and publications mentioned in this article), which encourages physicians to identify tobacco users and then provides a variety of Web-based resources- including patient education materials, a pharmacologic product guide, and information on coding, reimbursement and continuing medical education (CME)- to help physicians activate a tobacco cessation ancillary service.

The "ask" part of the program focuses on identifying the smokers in your practice. "Ask people whether they use tobacco, and then note that in the medical record," says Thomas P Houston, MD, a family physician who works in an outpatient cardiac rehabilitation and wellness center at McConnell Heart Health Center in Columbus, Ohio, and is a clinical professor of family medicine and clinical professor of public health at Ohio State University. "Electronic records are a boon for this," Houston adds, "because after you enter a patient's tobacco use status, a good electronic record system will remind you that you need to speak with Mrs. Jones about tobacco dependence every time she's in the office." In the case of adolescents, Houston advises asking the question again at subsequent visits because smoking status can change from nonsmoker to smoker.

Post signs at the front desk and posters in exam rooms signifying that you're interested in talking to patients about smoking. These nonverbal cues indicate to patients that the topic can and should be addressed. If your nurse, medical assistant, or another person in your practice shows patients to exam rooms, have him or her ask the 'Oo you smoke?" question, and note the answer in the record. You can start the conversation with, "I see you're a smoker. Have you ever thought about quitting?" Even if the answer is no, "raising the topic substantially improves the chances that this person will turn to you when he or she is ready to quit" Houston says.

Because some patients go for months or even years without an office visit Cynthia Dunn, RN, FACMPE, a Medical Group Management Association senior consultant based in Cocoa Beach, Florida, recommends that you send out some kind of communication- a letter, email message, or a prominent post on your Web site- to alert patients that your practice offers tobacco cessation treatment and counseling. …

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