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Using a Computer to Help People Quit Smoking

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"The final twist is, instead of everybody getting the same 'one size fits all' program, each person got a program that was individually tailored for their particular needs and challenges, and that was done via computer tailoring and computer printing," Shiffman tells WebMD. "So, we were able to generate fully formatted, slick text for everyone, and everyone's was different."

The people in the study were split into three groups, one relying on the Committed Quitters Program, one relying on that program and a supportive phone call, and one group that relied only on the user's guide and an audiotape provided with the nicotine gum. Everyone received follow-up calls at six and 12 weeks. Since the quit rates for the first two groups ended up being virtually the same, the researchers just compared results between the Committed Quitters Program group and the user's guide group.

At 12 weeks, the quit rate was more than 27% for the group that used the tailored system, and nearly 18% for the standard user's guide group. That means the tailored system had a 56% better quit rate than what was previously offered.

Shiffman hopes people can learn that there is another alternative out there. "The unfortunate reality is, research shows most printed guides don't work, don't have a payoff in terms of actual success at quitting smoking, and this and other studies suggest that individually tailored guides do work."

Shiffman says the program is even easier now, because it's on the Internet "so people can enroll on the Web and the content is tailored and displayed for them instantly. ... So, being able to produce something that you can distribute and disseminate on a mass scale, and that has a real clinical impact, is a real revolution in the delivery of behavioral programs."

Paul M. Cinciripini, PhD, tells WebMD, "I think it's a pretty interesting study; it's a good study. It is one of only a handful of studies that have attempted to do a randomized trial on smokers who are using over-the-counter treatment. ... This is very real world. A real strength of the study is the population choice on real world smokers who are trying to quit using these minimal interventions." Cinciripini is the director of tobacco research and treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Cinciripini says it's not a pure comparison of tailored to non-tailored programs because the tailored participants received their materials at different periods over the trial, whereas the user's guide was a one-shot deal at the beginning of the program.

"Does tailored work better than non-tailored, the answer to that question from this study is 'yes,' but another way you would have tested that was to give non-tailored materials at four different times," Cinciripini says, so those people also had prompts and intervention.

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