Background: Many conventional health education materials, such as pamphlets and booklets, are designed to reach as wide an audience as possible; they are therefore often lengthy and contain information irrelevant to many consumers. Computer technologies allow sophisticated tailoring of messages targeted to individual patients and free of irrelevant information.
Methods: In two studies in North Carolina (study 1, N = 51; study 2, N = 197), adult cigarette smokers were identified from a cohort of family practice patients. Cigarette consumption, interest in quitting smoking, perceived benefits and barriers to quitting, and other characteristics relevant to smoking cessation were collected. Based on this information, smoking cessation letters were tailored by computer to individuals. Smokers were randomly assigned to experimental (tailored health letters) or comparison groups (generic health letter in study 1, no health letter in study 2). Smoking status was assessed again at 4 months (study 1) or 6 months (study 2).
Results: Both studies found statistically significant positive effects of tailored health letters among moderate to light smokers. In study 1, 30.7% reported quitting after 6 months vs 7.1% in the control group (P < .05); in study 2, 19.1% vs 7.3% (P < .05).
Conclusions: Results from both studies indicate positive effects of computer-tailored smoking messages among moderate to light smokers. These findings are consistent with the focus of our computer-tailored program on psychological and behavioral factors related to smoking cessation. Smoking cessation outcomes may be enhanced by combining tailored messages with nicotine replacement therapies to treat physical dependency. Methods of tailoring health messages and incorporating the results into family practice are described.