They are on the front lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year when patients find themselves fighting the flu, coughing from a cold or bringing a child to get those back-to-school vaccines. While doctors may be treating one illness, each appointment serves as an opportunity to educate people about the multiple medical problems associated with tobacco use.
“At the Georgia Cancer Center, we educate our doctors and incoming medical residents about the five A’s,” said Amy McIntyre, community program coordinator in the Office of Cancer Information and Awareness at the Georgia Cancer Center. “We want them to know they need to be constantly counseling their patients. If those patients are children, they need to be talking to the parents about the dangers of secondhand smoke, too.”
The five A’s include: Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist and Arrange. First, doctors need to ask their patients if they smoke. Next, they need to understand how addicted the patient is to tobacco. This includes how often they smoke and how many cigarettes they smoke per day. Then, the doctor needs to advise them to quit by educating them about the many health problems stemming from tobacco. Research has shown tobacco use can be the cause of 16 different forms of cancer.
As the doctors have these discussions with patients, it’s important to assess how serious each person is about quitting or their willingness to try to quit. For those serious about looking for help, doctors are encouraged to assist the patient in registering for the Georgia Cancer Center’s Tobacco Cessation Program. Lastly, doctors should arrange follow-up with their patients to help prevent relapse.
“We made it super simple for doctors to refer their patients to our program,” McIntyre said. “Each patient’s electronic medical record has a checkbox. When doctors mark the box, our team gets an alert and can contact the patient to schedule their first appointment.”
With the new wave of medical residents starting their training at Augusta University Health in June, now is the perfect time to share and reinforce this information. McIntyre provided residents with a handout walking them through the EMR referral steps during orientation in late June.
One of those residents, Jenson Matthew, is a postgraduate year one at Augusta University. For him, being a doctor has always been a means of helping people, which is an experience that brings him true happiness. For Matthew and the other residents in his class, they agreed practitioner preventive care was their No. 1 priority.
“Being a professional in our field means we have to commit to adapting to the ever-growing field and ensure to improve our craft through learning from our patients, peers, and own personal thirst for knowledge,” Matthew said. “In this same light, staying informed and educated about anything and everything that could affect our patients’ health. In regards to e-cigs, there isn’t a lot of information about the long-term risks and effects, and that isn’t something that we can just overlook and wait until it becomes an issue.”
McIntyre said the trust between a patient and their doctors is the key to making sure the message is heard.
“As you are treating their medical issues over time, you start looking for ways to treat the whole person,” said McIntyre. “This trust gives a doctor the unique opportunity to say, ‘We want you to quit smoking for your own health and not just for today, but over your lifespan and for the future of your health.’”
Doctors and residents looking for information about the Tobacco Cessation Program at the Georgia Cancer Center can call (706) 721-0456.