BACKGROUND: Use of tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. It disproportionately impacts people who experience socioeconomic disadvantages. How did tobacco screening change in community health centers during the COVID-19 pandemic? Researchers from BRIDGE-C2 analyzed health record data from 217 primary care clinics from January 2019 through July 2021. The data included telehealth and in-person visits for 759,138 adult patients 18 and older to determine how monthly rates of tobacco assessment had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
USEFUL FINDINGS: The team found that between March and May 2020, tobacco assessment monthly rates went from 155.7 per 1,000 patients down to 77.7 per 1,000 patients — a 50% decline. There was a subsequent increase in tobacco assessment between June 2020 and May 2021; however, assessments remained 33.5% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
BOTTOM LINE: The study found that tobacco assessments declined and never recovered to pre-pandemic levels. This likely reflects workforce shortages, staffing role changes and shifts in rooming workflows in community health centers.