About 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Quitting is an incredibly challenging process, but with the right resources, including behavioral counseling and medications, anyone can become smoke-free.
When the COVID-19 pandemic restricted the number of patients who could safely visit the Tobacco Cessation clinic at the Medical University of South Carolina, counselors turned to telehealth to continue treating patients.
“Our ability to do telehealth visits was key to still being able to reach out to them and have that connection with patients,” said Emily Ware, Pharm D., a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist with the Tobacco Treatment Program at MUSC.
Ware and other counselors use virtual visits and phone calls to connect with patients. One of her patients, Jason Ramsey, a father of four, knew that he needed to quit smoking cigarettes for the sake of his family, but after smoking since the age of 15, his addiction was not easy to overcome.
He said he experienced anger and anxiety when he tried to quit smoking on his own, but through the tobacco cessation program at MUSC, he quit smoking cigarettes for good.
“I appreciate everything that they did, I really do,” Ramsey said. “With trying the medicine and the counseling, it did make me feel a whole lot better about myself. I could wake up without yearning for (cigarettes).”
Benjamin Toll, Ph.D., Professor of Public Health Sciences and Psychiatry and Director of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MUSC, said he prefers in-person counseling but the virtual visits are working very well for patients and counselors alike. Connecting virtually also eliminates any transportation issues and allows more family members to take part in the treatment plan.
“(Virtual visits) have allowed a much larger number of patients to come to our service - there are just many barriers that have been let up,” Toll said.