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Variability in patient sociodemographics, clinical characteristics, and healthcare service utilization among 107,302 treatment seeking smokers in Ontario: a cross-sectional comparison

Baliunas D, Zawertailo L, Voci S, Gatov E, Bondy SJ, Fu L, Selby PL. PloS One. 2020; Jul 10 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:

Background — Since 2005, the Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients (STOP) program has provided smoking cessation treatment of varying form and intensity to smokers through 11 distinct treatment models, either in-person at partnering healthcare organizations or remotely via web or telephone. We aimed to characterize the patient populations reached by different treatment models.

Methods — We linked self-report data to health administrative databases to describe sociodemographics, physical and mental health comorbidity, healthcare utilization and costs. Our sample consisted of 107,302 patients who enrolled between 18Oct2005 and 31Mar2016, across 11 models operational during different time periods.

Results — Patient populations varied on sociodemographics, comorbidity burden, and healthcare usage. Enrollees in the Web-based model were youngest (median age: 39; IQR: 29–49), and enrollees in primary care-based Family Health Teams were oldest (median: 51; IQR: 40–60). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and hypertension were the most common physical health comorbidities, twice as prevalent in Family Health Teams (32.3% and 30.8%) than in the direct-to-smoker (Web and Telephone) and Pharmacy models (13.5%-16.7% and 14.7%-17.7%). Depression, the most prevalent mental health diagnosis, was twice as prevalent in the Addiction Agency (52.1%) versus the Telephone model (25.3%). Median healthcare costs in the two years up to enrollment ranged from $1,787 in the Telephone model to $9,393 in the Addiction Agency model.

Discussion — While practitioner-mediated models in specialized and primary care settings reached smokers with more complex healthcare needs, alternative settings appear better suited to reach younger smokers before such comorbidities develop. Although Web and Telephone models were expected to have fewer barriers to access, they reached a lower proportion of patients in rural areas and of lower socioeconomic status. Findings suggest that in addition to population-based strategies, embedding smoking cessation treatment into existing healthcare settings that reach patient populations with varying disparities may enhance equitable access to treatment.

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