Background The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Guideline for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence includes ten key recommendations regarding the identification and the treatment of tobacco users seen in all health care settings. To our knowledge, the impact of system-wide brief interventions with cigarette smokers on smoking prevalence and health care utilization has not been examined using patient population-based data. Methods and Findings Data on clinical interventions with cigarette smokers were examined for primary care office visits of 104,639 patients at 17 Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates (HVMA) sites. An operational definition of “systems change” was developed. It included thresholds for intervention frequency and sustainability. Twelve sites met the criteria. Five did not. Decreases in self-reported smoking prevalence were 40% greater at sites that achieved systems change (13.6% vs. 9.7%, p<.01). On average, the likelihood of quitting increased by 2.6% (p<0.05, 95% CI: 0.1%–4.6%) per occurrence of brief intervention. For patients with a recent history of current smoking whose home site experienced systems change, the likelihood of an office visit for smoking-related diagnoses decreased by 4.3% on an annualized basis after systems change occurred (p<0.05, 95% CI: 0.5%–8.1%). There was no change in the likelihood of an office visit for smoking-related diagnoses following systems change among non-smokers. Conclusions The clinical practice data from HVMA suggest that a systems approach can lead to significant reductions in smoking prevalence and the rate of office visits for smoking-related diseases. Most comprehensive tobacco intervention strategies focus on the provider or the tobacco user, but these results argue that health systems should be included as an integral component of a comprehensive tobacco intervention strategy. The HVMA results also give us an indication of the potential health impacts when meaningful use core tobacco measures are widely adopted.
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