Background: Despite the adverse health consequences of smoking, many physicians still neglect to counsel smokers to quit. This study evaluated the effect of including smoking status as a vital sign on the frequency of physician discussions with patients about smoking and physician advice to quit smoking.
Methods: A consecutive sample of adult ambulatory patients in our metropolitan family practice residency program completed exit surveys on physician and nurse counseling about smoking. Control group data were collected for 1 month before the change was made to include smoking status as a vital sign on patient charts. Charts were then marked with a stamp as a chart prompt in the vital signs section. Data were collected for 2 months after smoking status was added to the stamp.
Results: There were 637 individuals surveyed, of whom 179 were current smokers; 95 in the "prestamp" group and 84 in the "poststamp" group. The percentage of patient-physician encounters during which smoking was discussed increased from 47% to 86% (P < .001). Physician advice to quit increased from 50% to 80% (P < .001). Physician discussion of smoking with patients increased across all of the five stages of change but most dramatically (53% to 95%) in the "preparation" stage. Physicians were much less likely to counsel patients in the "precontemplation" stage to quit smoking.
Conclusions: Including smoking as a new vital sign significantly increased the likelihood of smoking-related discussions between patients and their physicians. The stamp is inexpensive and easy to use, and because it is a one-time office system change, it is more likely to be implemented and maintained in busy practices.