Background: It is unclear how different types of intake clinicians (registered nurses [RNs], and less costly licensed practical nurses [LPNs] and medical assistants [MAs]) compare in the performance of smoking-cessation activities recommended in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) smoking-cessation clinical practice guideline.
Methods: A secondary analysis of data from a randomized controlled trial of guideline implementation was performed. Exit interviews of consecutive adult smokers who presented to nine primary care clinics for routine, non-emergency care were conducted during the period February 2000 to May 2001; a total of 1221 patients with adequate data were analyzed. Intake clinicians were surveyed prior to guideline training. Hierarchical logistic regression models were used to determine the association between type of intake clinician and performance of cessation counseling at the clinic visit, after adjustment for patient-level covariates, intake clinicians' characteristics, and study site.
Results: Performance of all guideline-recommended counseling activities were significantly greater for all intake clinicians at test versus control sites. MAs were significantly less likely to assess willingness to quit (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=0.4, 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.2-0.8, p =0.005) and tended to offer advice and assistance in quitting less often than RNs. Similar findings were observed for LPNs (AOR=0.5, 95% CI=0.3-1.0, p =0.03, for assessing willingness to quit). Subset analysis in subjects with complete survey data revealed that being seen by a MA was no longer associated with statistically significant differences in performance, after accounting for personal beliefs, self-efficacy, and role satisfaction in cessation counseling.
Conclusions: Although both MAs and LPNs showed marked improvements in performance in response to the guideline intervention, patients seen by these intake clinicians were less likely to receive guideline-recommended counseling, compared to those patients seen by RNs. Given their important role in the delivery of preventive care, MAs and LPNs should receive proper training in cessation counseling, should have strong physician and administrative support, and should be included in efforts to implement smoking-cessation guidelines in primary care.