Esteemed Researcher Dr. Robin Mermelstein Continues Collaboration with UW-CTRI

Dr. Robin Mermelstein
Dr. Robin Mermelstein

Dr. Robin Mermelstein’s connection with UW-CTRI goes back 20 years and continues on a new grant.

“I feel incredibly honored to be part of the CTRI team,” she said. “They are the premiere experts in smoking cessation delivery, doing cutting-edge treatment on how to make it work. I admire their creativity and pragmatism, working within real-world constraints. They’re super smart, fun, engaging, and thoughtful.”

Years ago, Mermelstein, the director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, met UW-CTRI Research Director Dr. Tim Baker and UW-CTRI Director Dr. Michael Fiore at a national research conference.

“I’ve known about Mike and Tim’s work for a long time,” Mermelstein said. “The Addressing Tobacco In Managed Care Advisory Board was my first connection with them. The connection got reinforced more with the Transdisicplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC): I was heading up one of the projects to bolster communications for TTURC.”

Back then, Danielle McCarthy and Megan Piper were graduate students working under the tutelage of Baker. “I really admired their work,” Mermelstein said, “and was impressed with what they had done. As TTURC progressed, I got more involved as a collaborator and an advisor. With the first Center grant project, I got more involved.”

Looking forward, Mermelstein collaborates with Baker, Fiore, and now UW-CTRI Associate Directors for Research Drs. Danielle McCarthy and Megan Piper on Breaking Addiction to Tobacco for Health 2 (BREATHE 2), also known as the P01 research grant at UW-CTRI. UW-CTRI staff are working to prepare the grant to begin recruiting in coming months. She serves as the lead for Project 4: Implementation along with McCarthy.

“I think it’s a groundbreaking project in multiple ways,” Mermelstein said. “What UW-CTRI has excelled in and done better than anybody else is showing how to leverage EHR interventions to address the full continuum of smoking, from those not thinking of quitting to those ready to quit. We’re examining how to get the best intervention in the most effective way so it can be delivered with reach and power. With Project 4: Implementation, the opportunity is to figure out how to transfer that knowledge to other systems. What works, and what lessons to maximize.”

Project 4 is designed to motivate smokers to quit and to help those ready to quit achieve abstinence. The key components of the BREATHE 2 chronic care approach are:

  • Systematic assessment of smoking status at primary-care visits.
  • Automatic referral of patients who smoke to a centralized care manager who delivers proactive smoking interventions (unless patients opt out).
  • Coordination of medications and coaching with primary-care providers and the state quitline; and screening and referring medically eligible patients who want help quitting to centralized intensive services. Project 4 will examine the reach and implementation of key facets.

Mermelstein said they won’t just analyze how to help patients quit efficiently, but also how to disseminate this strategy nationally. “What we’re trying to do is figure out what facilitates the best implementation and what barriers are in the way.”

One of the key parts of Project 4 involves looking at everything from the viewpoint of multiple stakeholders within a healthcare system. Mermelstein said she is excited to see how the BREATHE 2 chronic care package operates in the real world through the eyes of healthcare professionals in the clinic room with patients.

“It’s a project that will give voice to every level of involvement. It will give us enormous credibility moving this into the field.”

Mermelstein said it’s important to have healthcare research that delivers honest, practical results to healthcare providers at all levels.

A past president of the Society for Research on Nicotine or Tobacco, Mermelstein is excited to be working with UW-CTRI on BREATHE 2.

“It’s remarkable. Everyone is better for having worked with UW-CTRI. This important work is done in a collegial, supportive way.”

The feeling is mutual.

“Dr. Mermelstein has been an extraordinary colleague to UW-CTRI for over two decades,” Fiore said. “Her wisdom and guidance over the years have markedly enhanced the work of our Center. Tim and I so appreciate her willingness to collaborate with us.”