Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Smoking Cessation: One of the Many Pulls on a Primary Care Provider’s Time

Smoking Cessation: One of the Many Pulls on a Primary Care Provider’s Time

Project Manager

This past week, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the American Academy of Family Physicians Assembly in Washington, D.C., as the guest of my dad, a family practice doctor. Although many of the sessions were not relevant (or, let's be honest, comprehensible) to my public health and preventative health background, I did attend some interesting lectures on smoking cessation, immunizations, and other topics that, while still obviously tailored to the primary care provider (PCP) audience, were nonetheless quite informative. Aside from the tangible information provided, the most valuable thing I learned is that as a health communicator, we need to remember all of the myriad priorities and responsibilities a PCP must juggle in their limited time with a patient.

Professionally, I have spent most of my time on the Smokefree.gov Initiative, and so naturally I assume that everyone who may deal with smoking cessation knows about it. PCPs and their staff have the unique opportunity to reach smokers to help them quit. Typically PCPs spend more time with a patient than any other health professional, so he or she can follow up with the patient and assess progress as well as help troubleshoot issues that arise. It has also been shown that smokers are much more likely to quit successfully if they have the help of their PCP. However, I learned at this conference (and from my own experience as a patient), that most PCPs simply do not have much time during their appointments to address anything more than the acute problem. In addition, only one person who I spoke with at the Assembly had heard of the Smokefree initiative, which has a great suite of free resources for patients trying to quit!

My takeaway from this is that although it is of course very important for a smoker's doctor to offer help for them to quit, it is equally important that doctors are provided with easy-to-use and easy-to-understand resources that they can share with their patients. One of the resources mentioned frequently at the Assembly's smoking cessation sessions was the CDC's free quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (which is an amazing, free, and personalized counseling service). I imagine one of the reasons it was touted so much is that it is 1) easy to remember, 2) evidence based and 3) a complete intervention in itself, even if there are additional resources. However, a quitline isn't the right fit for everyone. Some people may prefer a more anonymous interaction, in which case a quit smoking intervention delivered via smart phone app or text message may be a better option. Others want support, in which case an online forum or social media page may be very helpful. These resources exist and can be very successful. But their marketing is missing a key secondary audience: PCPs.

When we create tools and resources that are intended to directly help patients, it is important that we consider alternative avenues to reach them, such as through their health care providers. And if we choose to market resources to the providers as well, then we must remember that their time is limited, they are juggling various health priorities, and they need resources that can integrate smoothly into their practice.

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