Although significant efforts have been made to eliminate health disparities in the United States, we’ve made less progress in reducing smoking rates among individuals with lower education and lower income. Since cigarette smoking is the No. 1 preventable disease and cause of death worldwide, this lag contributes to widening health disparities and presents an important opportunity for change.
To address the high smoking rates in low-income populations, researchers conducted a study using electronic health records to connect patients with smoking cessation programming, the results of which were recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Using health records from 13 primary care practices in Massachusetts, researchers identified more than 700 patients with a low household income who considered themselves to be smokers. Three out of five patients were assigned the study intervention, which included six weeks of free nicotine patches, telephone counseling, and referrals to community support. The remaining patients received the standard counseling and support that smokers typically receive from their health care providers.
After following up with participants nine months after the study intervention, researchers found that individuals receiving free nicotine patches and counseling were more than twice as likely to quit as those receiving usual care. Among those receiving the study intervention, participants taking advantage of telephone counseling were more than twice as likely to quit as those who did not.
Not only does this study demonstrate the value of integrated smoking cessation support for patients, it highlights our ability to use health records to improve public health. Reducing smoking rates is a major public health goal in the United States, but primary care providers often don’t have the time or resources needed to help smokers quit. By proactively identifying smokers through health records and directly reaching out with the support they need, we can more effectively reduce smoking rates and improve public health.