Targeted secure messages to facilitate access to tobacco treatment counseling for veterans: Feasibility study

Shaun Shahani, Pearl Korenblit, Pauline Thomas, Marian R. Passannante, Richard Carr, Lynn Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Studies show that combining nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) with tobacco treatment counseling is most effective for smoking cessation. However, tobacco treatment counseling has been underutilized across the nation. A secure email message sent to patients already taking NRT was hypothesized to increase the utilization of tobacco treatment counseling among Veterans in New Jersey. Secure messaging for communication between patients and providers was implemented through a web-based password-protected, secure messaging account, where Veterans get notified through their personal email when they have a message awaiting them. Objective: The main objective of this project was to determine if there was a significant increase in adoption of tobacco treatment counseling among Veterans who received a secure message describing the options for tobacco treatment counseling available to them. Secondary objectives were to demographically characterize Veterans who were and were not enrolled in secure messaging, as well as those who opened or did not open a message. Finally, because the language and content of the messages were changed across project phases, this project also sought to determine (by analysis of response rates) the type of language that was most effective at eliciting a response. Methods: Over two phases, messages were sent to two samples of Veterans prescribed NRT within the prior 90 days of each phase. In phase 1, one message was sent in December 2015 (message 1). In phase 2, one message was sent in July 2016 (message 2) and the same message (message 3) was resent in August 2016 to persons who did not open message 2. Messages 2 and 3 were more directive than message 1. Response rates to message 1 versus message 2 were compared. A logistic regression analysis determined effect of age and gender on enrollment in secure messaging across both phases. The effectiveness of each phase at increasing tobacco treatment counseling was analyzed using a McNemar test. Results: Message 2, sent to 423 Veterans, had a significantly higher response rate than message 1, sent to 348 Veterans (18%, 17/93 vs 8%, 6/78, P=.04). Phase 2 (ie, messages 2 and 3) significantly increased utilization of tobacco treatment counseling (net increase of six tobacco treatment counseling adopters, P=.04), whereas phase 1 (ie, message 1) did not (net increase of two tobacco treatment counseling adopters, P=.48). Women (odds ratio [OR] 1.6, 95% CI 1.1-2.3) and those aged 30 to 49 years (compared to other age groups) were more likely to be enrolled in secure messaging. Gender and age were not significant predictors of opening or replying to either message. Conclusions: Although the effect was small, secure messaging was a useful modality to increase tobacco treatment counseling. Directive content with a follow-up message appeared useful. Female Veterans and/or Veterans aged between 30 and 49 years are more likely to use secure messaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere18
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Secure messaging
  • Smoking cessation
  • Tobacco use


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