Primary care physicians, including pediatricians, already face big challenges in covering a myriad of health discussions with young patients and their parents during their limited time in the exam room. But according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), doctors who squeeze in a talk about smoking with teen patients can improve their lifelong health.
"This is one of the most effective things that a provider can do to keep kids healthy over their life course," Sue Curry, dean of the college of public health at the University of Iowa, told NPR's Shots blog. "They can make a big difference in a relatively short amount of time."
According to the research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, both simple and elaborate interventions had a positive impact. Methods studied by the USPSTF included the following:
- Conducting simple conversations with a doctor or other provider, either in person or by phone (most effective)
- Having doctors mail out educational material to a patient's home
- Sending home a 28-minute video with a viewing guide, with follow-up calls from a counselor
- Sending a teenager and at least one parent to seven two-hour group sessions, with workbooks to complete at home
- Using prescription forms preprinted with anti-tobacco messages
Currently, about 8 percent of middle schoolers say they smoke, as do 24 percent of high school students, according to 2009 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We now know that the smokers that have the most difficulty quitting are the smokers that start in their teenage years and smoke into young adulthood," Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist and pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not on the USPSTF panel, told Time. "It seems incumbent upon pediatricians and internists who have experience with these patients to counsel those patients at exactly that time."