This information is for reference purposes only. It was current when produced and may now be outdated. Archive material is no longer maintained, and some links may not work. Persons with disabilities having difficulty accessing this information should contact us at: https://info.ahrq.gov. Let us know the nature of the problem, the Web address of what you want, and your contact information.
Please go to www.ahrq.gov for current information.
Media Advisory: April 13, 1998
The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR) works to improve the quality of
health care, reduce costs, and broaden access to essential services. Here are some of the findings described in
the most recent issue of AHCPR's Research Activities.
Physician Counseling Can Help Patients Quit Smoking
A smoker is more likely to quit smoking when counseled by his or her physician to quit and offered
nicotine replacement therapy. But most physicians often fail to ask patients about their smoking status or
advise those who do smoke to quit, falling far short of national goals and guidelines for physicians to identify
and counsel each patient who smokes, concludes an AHCPR-supported study by Boston researchers. It
shows that physicians' treatment of smokers improved little in the first half of the 1990s. Physicians asked
patients if they smoked at 67 percent of all visits in 1991, a proportion that did not increase over time.
Smoking counseling by physicians increased from 16 percent of smokers' visits in 1991 to 29 percent in
1993 (a year after the nicotine patch was introduced), and then decreased to 21 percent in 1995. Nicotine
therapy followed a similar pattern. These findings are based on analysis of 1991-1995 data from the
National Medical Ambulatory Care Survey, an annual survey of a random sample of U.S. office-based
["National patterns in the treatment of smokers by physicians," Anne N. Thorndike, M.D., Nancy A. Rigotti,
M.D., Randall S. Stafford, M.D., Ph.D., and Daniel E. Singer, M.D., in the February 25, 1998 Journal of the
American Medical Association 279(8), pp. 604-608.]
If Doctors Advised Each of Their Patients Who Smoked To
Quit, 1.7 Million More Persons Would Quit Smoking Each Year
Each year, about 5 percent of current smokers quit. If doctors would ask every patient whether he
or she smokes and advise those who smoke to quit, an additional 1.7 million people would quit smoking each
year. Among those who quit, 60 percent would do so because of combination therapy—that is, counseling and
use of the nicotine patch. The researchers estimate that 19 percent of smokers who receive full counseling
would quit, and that intensive counseling by smoking cessation specialists would increase this figure to 23
percent. The odds of quitting would increase by nearly twofold with the addition of nicotine gum and two- to
threefold with use of the nicotine patch. The researchers modeled these interventions, which were
recommended by AHCPR's smoking cessation guideline, and assumed that they would be provided to 75
percent of U.S. smokers 18 years and older, the proportion of smokers who have previously tried to quit.
["Cost-effectiveness of the clinical practice recommendations in the AHCPR guideline for smoking
cessation," by Jerry Cromwell, Ph.D., William Bartosch, M.P.A., Michael C. Fiore, M.D., M.P.H., and
others, in the December 3, 1997, Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(21), pp. 1759-1766.]
Ordering More Diagnostic Tests and Monitoring Procedures
Would Not Result in Fewer Malpractice Suits for Omissions
If doctors ordered more diagnostic tests and monitoring procedures than they do now in order to
avoid law suits (one type of defensive medicine), they would actually avert very few malpractice suits. In
fact, the average specialist would be sued for omitting a necessary diagnostic test once every 59 years,
estimates an AHCPR-supported study. Although malpractice suits for omission are uncommon, they are
more often associated with significant patient injury and death and are harder to defend than other
malpractice suits. The likelihood of payment for omission-related claims was more than twice that of other
claim types, and the median payment for such a claim was $34,000 greater than for other claims. These
findings are based on review of claims in 15 specialties during 1977-1989, from a database of a malpractice
insurer in one state.
["Omission-related malpractice claims and the limits of defensive medicine," by Richard L. Kravitz, M.D.,
John E. Rolph, Ph.D., and Laura Petersen, M.P.H., in the December 1997 Medical Care Research and
Review 54(4), pp. 456-471.]
Use of Physical Restraints Has Declined in Nursing Homes, but
They Remain a Fact of Life for Some Residents
One out of four nursing home residents in 1993 was physically restrained with either wrist or
ankle restraints, restrictive vests, or geri-chairs. This is a 30 percent reduction (36 percent vs. 26 percent)
from the number of nursing home residents who typically were restrained prior to passage of the 1987
Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), according to an AHCPR-supported study. On the other hand, the use
of restraints continues to be more likely for certain types of residents: those with physical or cognitive
impairment and those who take antipsychotic medication, have a history of falls, or have problems with
mobility. Facilities located in areas with prospective Medicaid reimbursement policies were more likely to
use restraints. Current Medicaid reimbursement may not be sufficient to facilitate care alternatives mandated
by the NHRA, suggests Vincent Mor, Ph.D., of Brown University. He and colleagues merged 1990 and 1993
Health Care Financing Administration evaluation data with corresponding Medicare and Medicaid survey
data on a total of 268 facilities in 10 states to examine resident and facility factors associated with restraint
["Risk factors for physical restraint use in nursing homes: Pre- and post-implementation of the Nursing
Home Reform Act," by Nicholas G. Castle, Ph.D., Barry Fogel, M.D., and Vincent Mohr, Ph.D., in The
Gerontologist 37(6), pp. 737-747, 1997.]
Other findings in Research Activities:
- Outcomes important to Alzheimer's patients and their families.
- Treatment differences between cardiologists and general physicians.
- Differences in specialist use by managed care and other patients.
- Benefits of bone marrow transplantation for leukemia patients.
- Medication that reduces risk of death for certain heart disease patients.
- Aggressive ER management of chest pain patients.
- Impact of managed care on long-term care.
- Relevance of health care organization to patient outcomes.
- Differences in how black and white patients assess their health.
- The benefits of speaking the same language as your doctor.
- Use of dental sealants among Medicaid-insured children.
- How chance contributes to prostate cancer detection.
- Importance of nursing staff mix on care delivery and outcomes.
For additional information, contact AHCPR Public Affairs: Salina Prasad, (301) 427-1864 (SPrasad@ahrq.gov).