Hospitalists’ Role in Improving Prescriptions of Nicotine Replacement Therapy Among Tobacco Users During Hospitalization and at Discharge


Hospitals that have a tobacco-free environment require patients to abstain from smoking.1 Tobacco users generally experience withdrawal within 2–3 h of their last cigarette, with cravings becoming most severe within 2–3 days.2 Thus, identifying, preventing, and treating withdrawal symptoms is important to promote recovery during hospitalization.3 While a tobacco treatment service (TTS) improves inpatient counseling, hospitalists have an important role in treating tobacco withdrawal symptoms and smoking cessation counseling. Our objective was to compare the effect of tobacco cessation counseling by provider type on the inpatient rate of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) orders and patient use.


We included all adult daily tobacco users discharged from the hospitalist service in a 500-bed academic medical center for 12 consecutive months. Tobacco use was documented in the electronic health record (EHR) by the admission nurse. Those identified by the formal nursing assessment triggered a TTS evaluation. TTS also received direct consults from the primary treatment team. Daily tobacco users willing to speak with TTS counselors received smoking cessation counseling. The primary team placed NRT orders based on TTS recommendations.4 We excluded intermittent smokers, patients who died during the hospitalization (n = 96), and those who received TTS counseling during a previous admission in the preceding calendar year (n = 147). For patients with multiple admissions during the study period, we used the first admission with documented counseling. We abstracted demographic, tobacco treatment, and hospitalization data from the EHR. To account for hospitalist counseling, we used corresponding CPT® codes. We defined TTS counseling as a brief intervention of three or more minutes. We included any form of NRT and excluded varenicline and bupropion. To determine the effect of provider type on NRT orders and administration, we used logistic regression model with Bonferroni’s correction.


Between the 12 months, there were 1136 daily tobacco users discharged by the hospitalist service (Table 1). A total of 49.9% of tobacco users received tobacco cessation counseling. Counseling was done by the TTS alone in 38% (n = 432), the hospitalists alone in 6% (n = 72); 6% (n = 63) received counseling by both groups. Provider type was significantly related to admission category, tobacco use disorder documentation, severity of illness score, discharge disposition, and smoking-related discharge diagnosis (Table 1). The highest NRT order and administration rate was in the group counseled by both hospitalist and TTS (81%), followed by hospitalist (66.7%), and TTS alone (60%). Adjusted odds of having an NRT order were highest for patients advised by hospitalist and TTS (OR 7.22, 95% CI = 2.94–17.72), followed by hospitalist (OR 3.28, 95% CI = 1.6–6.75), and TTS (OR 2.6, 95% CI = 1.81–3.73) (Table 2). Not all patients prescribed NRT accepted it, with a similar pattern of adjusted odds (both: OR 6.68, 95% CI = 2.90–15.08, hospitalist only: OR 2.62, 95% CI = 1.31–5.21, TTS only: OR 2.09, 95% CI = 1.45–3.0).

Table 1 Demographic and Hospitalization Characteristics by Counselor Type
Table 2 Odds Ratios for NRT Ordered and NRT Administered to Hospitalized Patients


Hospitalists in our study tended to counsel more hospitalized daily tobacco users with lower acuity of illness and those more often discharged home compared to higher acuity patients and with more comorbidities. This likely represents a challenge in prioritization of workflow. For the hospitalist, tobacco cessation counseling becomes less urgent among other daily patient management tasks. Our study was conducted at a single institution with an existing TTS, which may limit its generalizability. Counseling was based on claims data which may have underestimated the effect of hospitalist counseling. Furthermore, we did not evaluate sustained smoking cessation or use of NRT after hospital discharge, nor did we measure the frequency of warm handoff between the hospitalists and primary care physicians. In summary, when hospitalists counsel daily tobacco users on cessation, they are more likely to receive an order for and use NRT during the hospitalization. While TTS provides a valuable service, hospitalists play an important role among patients at risk for tobacco withdrawal during admission.


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We thank UPMC Health Services Division (Steven Shapiro, MD, Jessica Furnier), UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service (Beth Frenak, Nina Crayton, James Weeden), UPMC Information Services Department (Richard Ambrosino, MD, and Karen Thurner), and UPMC Presbyterian Hospital Section of Hospital Medicine (Jill Costa, RN, Susan Rankin, RN, and Mary Holt, RN).

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Correspondence to Kristian Feterik MD, MBA.

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Feterik, K., Ylioja, T., Schulze, A.E. et al. Hospitalists’ Role in Improving Prescriptions of Nicotine Replacement Therapy Among Tobacco Users During Hospitalization and at Discharge. J GEN INTERN MED 34, 333–335 (2019).

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  • hospital medicine
  • patient activation
  • smoking cessation
  • substance abuse