Quitting the quitline: A qualitative study of patient experience of electronic referrals to quitlines

Elizabeth L. Albert, Jeanmarie C. Rose, India J. Gill, Susan A. Flocke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The use of electronic referrals (eReferrals) to state quitlines (QLs) for tobacco-using patients is a promising approach for addressing smoking cessation on a large scale. However, QL contact, enrollment, and completion rates are low. The purpose of this study was to examine the eReferral to QL process from the patient's perspective in order to inform strategies for improving QL engagement. Methods: We conducted interviews with 55 patients who agreed to an eReferral at a primary care visit to 1 of 8 safety-net community health centers in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (September 2017-August 2018). Interviews were designed to explore the experiences of three subgroups of patients who subsequently: 1) declined participation in the QL; 2) were unreachable by the QL; or 3) were enrolled in or had completed the QL program. Analysis was guided by a phenomenological approach designed to identify emergent themes. Results: Reasons for QL program non-completion included changing life circumstances and events making cessation unviable; misunderstandings about the QL; discomfort with telephonic counseling; perceived lack of time for counseling; cell phone barriers; and having already quit smoking. We found that some individuals who were no longer engaged with the QL still desired continued support from the QL. Conclusions: Participants intentionally and unintentionally disengage from the QL for a wide variety of reasons, several of which are mediated by low socioeconomic status. Integrating QL care with community-based resources that address these mediators could be a promising strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1080
JournalBMC public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 9 2020


  • Primary care
  • Program use
  • Qualitative research
  • Tobacco cessation
  • Tobacco quitlines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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