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J Fam Pract. 1995 Jun;40(6):556-61.

Including smoking status as a new vital sign: it works!

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Department of Family Medicine, Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.



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.


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.


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.


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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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