A demonstration project for using the electronic health record to identify and treat tobacco users

WMJ. 2010 Dec;109(6):335-40.


Background: While the majority of smokers visit a primary care physician each year, only a small proportion of them receive evidence-based tobacco dependence treatment. The electronic health record (EHR) provides an opportunity to prompt clinicians to deliver tobacco dependence treatment in primary care.

Methods: Over 1 year, Dean Health Systems worked with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to modify the existing Dean EHR system (Epic Systems Corp, Verona, Wisconsin) to improve identification and treatment of adult smokers visiting primary care clinics. Modifications included evidence-based prompts that helped guide medical assistants to identify smokers and clinicians to deliver a brief tobacco cessation intervention (medication and Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line referral). Eighteen primary care clinics provided data 1 year before and 1 year after implementing the EHR modifications.

Results: A higher percentage of adult patients had their tobacco use status identified after EHR modification compared to pre-implementation (71.6% versus 78.4%, P < .001). During the post-implementation year, 6.3% of adult smokers were prescribed tobacco cessation medication, 2.5% of adult smokers had documentation of counseling, and 1.5% of adult smokers had counseling billed (pre-implementation data not available).

Conclusions: This demonstration project showed that a large health care system can increase the delivery of tobacco dependence treatment interventions (increased identification of smokers and relatively high rates of delivering specific tobacco dependence clinical interventions) building on an existing EHR platform. The project demonstrated that brief, evidence-based tobacco dependence interventions can be incorporated into primary care, especially when the EHR is used to improve clinic workflow.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized*
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Program Development
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / therapy*
  • User-Computer Interface
  • Wisconsin