Telemedicine no more effective than phone counseling to help smokers quit

A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has found little difference between sessions delivered by telemedicine or by phone in the effectiveness of counseling to help rural patients stop smoking.

The research involved 566 smokers from rural Kansas randomly assigned to receive either telemedicine counseling at their primary care clinics (Integrated Telemedicine--ITM) or counseling delivered by telephone at their homes. There was no difference in the duration or content of the four counseling sessions each participant received. Patients in ITM received real-time video counseling, similar to Skype, delivered by computer/webcams in clinic exam rooms.

Verified abstinence at 12 months did not significantly differ between the ITM or phone groups (9.8 percent vs. 12 percent). Phone participants completed somewhat more counseling sessions than ITM, however ITM participants were significantly more likely to use cessation medications than those counseled by phone.

ITM participants, however, were significantly more likely to recommend the program to a family member or friend. At the time, the phone counseling was significantly less expensive, both for the participant, who had to travel to the clinics for the sessions, and the provider, who had costs related to equipment and use of office space.

Health plans increasingly are trying smoking-cessation programs to lower premiums for their members--and penalizing those who don't participate.

A recent report from the American Lung Association stated that a majority of health plans offered on state health insurance marketplaces do not do enough to provide smokers with the assistance they need to quit.

The Affordable Care Act requires marketplace plans to cover tobacco cessation treatments without cost sharing, but the report found that less than half the plans on or the state marketplaces fully covered all seven FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications.

Last year some insurers raised premiums for smokers by as much as 50 percent, which some argued would only lead smokers to skip insurance altogether.

To learn more:
- find the research