Proactive Outreach for Smokers in VA Mental Health Background: Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and contributes up to 24% of all VA healthcare costs. Veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system smoke substantially more than the general population, which is particularly true among Veterans diagnosed with mental illness. Patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia have the highest smoking rates (69% and 58-90%, respectively) followed by those with PTSD (45-63%) and depression (31-51%). Numerous barriers exist for tobacco cessation among mental health patients, including high nicotine dependency, low rates of follow through for referrals, and limited availability of tobacco treatment tailored to their needs. Rationale: Most medical care providers assess tobacco use and advise smokers to quit, but they have insufficient time to follow up with treatment, leading to low long-term quit rates. Mental health providers who often meet regularly with patients report that they find tobacco cessation outside the scope of their practice and neither assess tobacco use nor refer smokers for treatment. These practice patterns have been very difficult to change even with intensive methods and across various settings and provider types. Therefore, we propose to use the electronic medical record system to identify smokers receiving mental health care and proactively reach out to engage them in treatment in line with the following aims:
Specific Aims : 1. Compare the reach and efficacy of a proactive outreach telephone-based tobacco cessation (PRO) program for patients seen in mental health to usual care (UC) advice and referral to local VA and community tobacco cessation resources. 2. Model longitudinal associations between baseline sociodemographic, medical and mental health characteristics and abstinence at 6 and 12 months in the PRO and UC conditions. Methods: We will use the electronic medical record to identify N=6,400 patients across 4 VA healthcare facilities who have a clinical reminder code indicating current tobacco use in the past year and who have had a mental health visit in the past 6 months. We will send each patient an introductory letter and baseline survey. Respondents will be randomized in a 1:1 fashion to intervention or control. Control participants will receive VA usual care. Intervention participants will receive proactive telephone counseling and cessation medications. We will assess tobacco use at 6 and 12 months from enrollment. The primary outcome is 30-day abstinence at the 12-month follow-up.

Public Health Relevance

Veterans with a mental health diagnosis have higher a prevalence of smoking and higher rates of smoking-related morbidities compared to the general Veteran population. Smoking cessation treatment delivery in the VA typically depends on a visit from a health care provider. In this study, we will use information within the electronic medical record to identify all smokers with a mental health diagnosis at a VA health care facility and proactively reach out to enroll them in an intensive tobacco cessation treatment program. This approach could be generalized to other behaviors and provides a novel method to improve the health of an entire population of patients.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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HSR-4 Mental and Behavioral Health (HSR4)
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VA Medical Center
New York
United States
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Rogers, Erin S; Fu, Steven S; Krebs, Paul et al. (2014) Proactive outreach for smokers using VHA mental health clinics: protocol for a patient-randomized clinical trial. BMC Public Health 14:1294