Background In September 2020, in-person smoking cessation courses, running for many years at St Vincent’s University Hospital, were converted to online delivery due to COVID-19. The courses, which normally were held in person in the early evening, were directed at patients and members of the hospital catchment area community. The difficulties in forming supportive networks online and lack of carbon monoxide monitoring for motivation when developing an ‘ex-smoker’ identity were initial concerns with the move online. The aim of this study was to compare in-person and online participation, satisfaction and quit rates.
Methods The six-week programme was slightly adjusted for online use. Pre-course meetings, with individuals or in small groups, were organised to meet participants and sort technical issues.
Registration and follow-up data were analysed from January 2015 – February 2020 (in-person group 6-week course; 272 participants) and March 2020 – November 2021 (online group 6-week course; 62 participants). Data was also available for 107 in-person and 23 online participants who completed evaluation forms.
Results Online participants were more significantly more likely to be female (73.6% vs 58.9%; p=0.022) and have a mean age approximately 4 years younger (46.8 vs 50.9; p=0.011). Online participants were also significantly more likely to use pharmacotherapy (74.6% vs 47.8%; p<0.001). The online and in-person groups had similar attendance, with an average of 3.56 and 3.8 sessions attended respectively. The online groups had non-significantly higher quit rates at the end of course, at 1 month, and 3 months than their onsite counterparts (47.9 vs 45%; 40.3 vs 35%; 22.8% vs 22.5%; ns). ‘Useful’ ratings were similar – 98% (in-person) and 96% (online).
Discussion The move online was successful, with similar engagement and ratings and a maintenance of quit rates. However, the demographic shift is notable; technology requirements may have deterred older smokers. When we return fully to normal in-person service delivery, this is a COVID-related change we will continue as part of a hybrid model of smoking cessation courses, as online courses should continue to suit some future participants.
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