Implementing a Tobacco Assisted Referral Program in Dental Practices

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Abstract

Objectives:

The objectives of this study are to design and implement a system-level tobacco-control intervention in a large prepaid dental group practice and assess effects on staff performance measures and patient satisfaction.

Methods:

We matched 14 dental facilities on size, socioeconomic status, smoking rate, and periodontal status, and then randomly assigned them to intervention or usual-care control. We trained intervention staff in an “Assisted Referral” team approach for assessing tobacco use, providing tailored advice and brief counseling, and encouraging smokers to talk by telephone with a specially trained tobacco counselor. Patients could call from the office or ask that the counselor call them later. Telephone counselors helped patients explore motivations and barriers for quitting; review available cessation-support strategies, programs, and medications; and identify next steps.

Results:

During the 14-month study period, 66,516 members had annual- or new-patient examinations. Both intervention and control sites had high rates of tobacco assessment (97 percent) and advice (93 percent). Intervention patients were more likely than controls (69 percent versus 3 percent, P < 0.01) to receive additional chair-side tobacco counseling and assistance, and 11 percent agreed to receive additional telephone counseling. Intervention patients were more satisfied than controls with the dental team's tobacco-control efforts (P < 0.03). Referral rates varied substantially for different staff.

Conclusions:

The Assisted Referral approach was successfully integrated into routine dental care, was well received by patients, and resulted in increased patient satisfaction. Because free telephone-based tobacco counseling is now available nationwide, the approach may be a practical strategy for most dental-care settings.

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