Personalised info drives more people to quit

hand with cigarette

Smokers who receive personalised information about their health risks may be more likely to quit, British research suggests

Researchers from the University College London have conducted a randomised controlled trial across 18 Stop Smoking Services (SSS) areas in England, including 99 general practices across the SSS areas.

Smokers who were already severely or terminally ill were excluded from the study, and those remaining were sent an invitation letter from their GP to participate.

Patients in a control group were sent a standard letter from their GP advertising the local SSS and asking them to contact the service, according to the study published in The Lancet.

Meanwhile, those in the intervention group received:

  • A brief personalised and tailored letter sent from the GP that included information specific to the patient, obtained via the screening questionnaire and from their medical records;
  • A personal invitation and appointment to attend a ‘come and try it’ taster session to find out more about the services, run by advisers from the local SSS; and,
  • A repeated personal letter with a further invitation three months after the original for participants who did not attend a taster session after the first letter and invitation.

Smokers who were sent the personalised letter were twice as likely to go to and complete a ‘Stop Smoking’ course as those who received the generic letter.

“The aims of the letter were to communicate personal risk level of serious illness if the individual continued to smoke, by use of personalised information, and to encourage attendance at the SSS,” say the authors.

They point out that smokers underestimate their own personal risk of illness compared with other smokers.

“Thus, a key aim in motivating smokers to make a quit attempt is to persuade them that these risks are personally relevant,” they say.

“Computer tailoring uses information about individual characteristics to personalise and tailor communications, and individually tailored self-help materials can have a small but useful effect over generic materials for smoking cessation.

“Tailored smoking cessation advice can also include personalised risk communication based on an individual’s own risk factors, which is more relevant than information about population average risks.

“Individual risk information can also arouse fear or concern, which might prompt a quit attempt, particularly when combined with a reassuring message that adoption of the recommended action would be effective.”

The personalised letter approach was particularly effective in men, the researchers noted; they suggest that if more men could be persuaded to use quit-smoking supports such as the SSS, the number of unaided and unsuccessful quit attempts could be reduced.

“Delivery of personalised risk information alongside an invitation to an introductory session more than doubled the odds of attending the SSS compared with a standard generic invitation to contact the service.

“This result suggests that a more proactive approach, combined with an opportunity to experience local services, can reduce patient barriers to receiving treatment and has high potential to increase uptake,” the authors conclude.

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