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OSU researchers studying portal system to help patients quit smoking

Monday, April 4, 2022

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 48,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the United Health Foundation. While many smokers want to quit — 70% — less than 5% use medications or go to counseling that has been linked to successful quitting. 

A team of researchers at Oklahoma State University are working to bridge that gap.

“The idea is that there are superior resources that lie with physicians — and quit attempts that involve physicians tend to be more successful,” said Marjorie Erdmann, director of the OSU Center for Health Systems Innovation. “Yet the smokers and physicians aren't connecting very often.”

Because of a sponsorship from Pfizer, OSU researchers Erdmann, Dr. Bryan Edwards and Tomi Adewumi leveraged a health system’s online portal system to test if proactively offering physician help to patients who smoke increases physician-smoker collaboration. Half the patients were invited to come to the clinic for help and the other were invited to click through to an asynchronous care survey for help. 

By embedding asynchronous care links into half the messages, they were able to test the effect of eliminating logistic barriers that are typical of physician help (e.g., making an appointment, going to the clinic). 

All portal messages contained information on how to successfully quit smoking through medications to control cravings and counseling or support to stay motivated — and proactively offered physician help. 

Smokers responded more strongly to asynchronous care — the physician-assisted quit attempt rate among those smokers was twice that of the group invited to the office, 9.5% vs. 4.3%. Among the smokers who opened the message containing the asynchronous care link 18% — nearly 1 in 5 — made a physician-assisted quit attempt.

The study — published in the open access Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), one of the leading publishers for medical studies — consisted of 188 known smokers and smoking attempts were tracked for 30 days after electronic outreach. 

The study reached populations where smoking is concentrated and who tend to not go to the doctor as often — including rural and younger populations, Erdmann said.

Although the study was designed to help smokers, it also sheds light on another issue.

“On a larger scale, it’s encouraging for health systems — systems that are trying hard to figure out how to best engage with their patients — that physicians can effectively offer care to patients and patients are open to receiving care asynchronously,” Erdmann said.

Story By: Karson Dodd | OSU Research Communications Intern

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