GHC Offers 8 Tips to Help Patients Quit Tobacco Use


While 20 percent of Wisconsinites use tobacco, only 11.9 percent of patients use it at Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHC-SCW). One big reason for this is the HMO has a systematic approach to helping patients quit.

Tobacco use is a vital sign at GHC-SCW, and the electronic-medical-records system prompts nurses and certified medical assistants to ask every patient about tobacco use or exposure to involuntary tobacco smoke at every visit. Then providers follow up with more advice on how to quit and, if appropriate, a prescription for one of the FDA-approved cessation medications.

From Left: Ivy Dowd, physician assistant; Cheryl Zeire-Schmidt, registered nurse; Barb Lazaris, health educator and tobacco-treatment coordinator; Cara Krinke, former UW-CTRI outreach specialist.

All patients interested in quitting tobacco use are given a packet of information as well as a referral to follow-up counseling. Each patient identified as a tobacco user gets a letter from his or her primary-care physician along with a brochure for GHC-SCW’s “Tobacco Free” class.

GHC-SCW takes a team approach, involving all staff. For example, “Our Pharmacy staff members have been real champions for helping patients quit tobacco,” said Barb Lazaris, health educator and tobacco-cessation coordinator.

“When they hear it from multiple people, it really helps,” said Cheryl Zeire-Schmidt, a registered nurse.

8 Tips for an Effective Tobacco-Treatment Program

Offer Options. GHC-SCW’s standard members are covered for five different medications. They can choose between three counseling choices, including GHC-SCW’s quit-tobacco specialists, its “Tobacco Free” class or the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW). All are free.

Remove Barriers. In 1994, GHC-SCW offered a support group and patches, but patients had to pay more than $100 up front then get reimbursed later. For the last decade, GHC-SCW has strived to make quitting free and convenient for as many patients as possible, and the results have been wonderful. “I just spoke to a patient who was smoking two packs a day and he’s still quit,” Lazaris said.

Link Quitting to Each Patient’s Current Medical Condition. If the patient has a broken bone, tell him it will heal faster if he quits smoking. If she’s there for asthma or a heart attack, quitting is the best thing she could do to avoid another attack.

Offer Dynamic Tobacco-Treatment Training for Staff. GHC-SCW trains all new staff, including one-on-one training as well as a video on how to help patients quit. They follow up whenever there’s a new best practice or FDA-approved medication.

Designate Champions and Specialists. With so many health concerns to treat, it helps to designate staff who focus on tobacco cessation. They certainly don’t have to be former smokers, but having that experience can help them relate to patients struggling with nicotine addiction.

Set Goals and Track Results. GHC-SCW’s technology department tracks whether each employee documents tobacco use as a vital sign. If an employee reflects low marks, Lazaris follows up with the appropriate supervisor. “Then you usually see it jump back up,” she said.

Stay Open to Innovation. GHC-SCW is considering using spirometry tests to show patients their decreased lung capacity. “We’re always trying to innovate anything that will help patients quit tobacco,” Lazaris said.

Leverage Help From UW-CTRI. The UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention has an outreach specialist in every region of the state, ready to offer free materials, training and technical assistance regarding the latest evidence-based research on how best to treat tobacco use. “It has been very helpful,” Lazaris said. All services are FREE, courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. 

For more case studies, 
click here. To locate your local UW-CTRI outreach professional for free training and technical assistance with helping patients to quit smoking or chewing tobacco, click here.