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Study: Too few doctors ask teens about smoking

MADISON-Doctors are failing to identify smoking status in about half of the adolescent patients seen, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study. Physicians addressed tobacco use even less with younger teens, missing an opportunity to intervene with those experimenting with tobacco use.

Based on an audit of Wisconsin Medicaid medical records, researchers found those least likely to be asked about their smoking status were younger patients, patients who were not pregnant and those from rural areas. Just 55 percent of adolescent patients seeing a physician in a two-year period were asked about their smoking status and only five percent of patients' charts included smoking status as a vital sign, a government-backed recommendation.

"Previous studies may have overestimated interventions with adolescents because they were based on physician self report," says Tammy Sims, M.D., M.S., the study's lead author from University of Wisconsin Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center. "Through analysis of patient charts, we have found that physicians are losing a golden opportunity to intervene with current teen smokers and to dissuade potential smokers among the younger teen population."

Information for the study, published in the journal Health Services Research was gleaned from patient charts randomly selected from Wisconsin Medicaid HMO eligibility files from January 1997 to January 1999. The study, focused on individuals 11 to 21 years old, found that tobacco use was documented on 55 percent of patient charts. Of those documented, 35 percent were current tobacco users (99.3 smokers and 0.7 percent smokeless tobacco users), 8 percent were former smokers and 57 percent had never smoked.

This analysis focused on the high-risk, low-income population enrolled in the Medicaid program. Previous research has indicated that individuals with less education and lower incomes are more likely to s
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Contact: Gloria Meyer
608-265-4447
University of Wisconsin-Madison
24-Jun-2004


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