Study Finds Primary Care Practices that Make Smoking a "Vital Sign" Increased Percentage of Patients Advised to Quit Smoking

Completing a controlled trial of making tobacco use status a vital sign
    • May 23, 2005

From October 2001 through September 2004, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, Medical College of Virginia investigated whether instituting smoking status as a "vital sign" within primary care practices would increase the likelihood that clinicians will advise patients to quit smoking.

Key Findings

  • In the clinics that instituted smoking status as a vital sign, 66.3 percent of patients reported being asked by clinicians (nurses or doctors) about their smoking status, up from 27 percent at baseline.

  • Compared to smokers visiting the control clinics, smokers visiting practices that assessed smoking status as a vital sign were more likely to report receiving cessation counseling.

  • Most of the increased counseling resulting from this intervention was simple advice to quit.

  • The intervention did not significantly increase delivery of more intensive discussions of how to quit. The intervention and the resulting changes in counseling appeared to be sustainable for at least six months.

  • There may be a period of several weeks after smoking status is routinely recorded as a vital sign before providers change their counseling behavior.