Video communication software like Skype and FaceTime allows counsellors to see and hear people over the Internet to help them quit smoking. Video counselling could help large numbers of people to quit smoking because more than four billion people use the Internet, and video communication software is free.
We searched for studies on 13 August 2019, and found two that met our inclusion criteria. Our main focus was to learn if video counselling delivered individually or to a group could help people quit smoking and to learn how it compared with other types of support to help people quit. We also studied the effect of real-time video counselling on the number of times people tried to quit, the number of sessions they completed, their satisfaction with the counselling, their relationship or bond with the counsellor and the costs of using video communication to help people quit smoking. Both studies took place in the USA, and included people from rural areas or women with HIV. Both studies gave one-to-one video sessions to individuals. There were eight video sessions in one study and four video sessions in the other study. Both studies compared video counselling to telephone counselling and looked at whether people quit smoking, the number of sessions they completed and their satisfaction with the programme. One study examined the number of times people tried to quit and one study looked at the relationship or bond with the counsellor.
It is unclear how video counselling compares with telephone counselling in terms of helping people to quit smoking. People who used video counselling were more likely than those who used telephone counselling to recommend the programme to a friend or someone in their family, but we found no differences in how satisfied they were, the number of video or telephone sessions completed, whether all sessions were completed and in the relationship or bond with the counsellor.
Quality of evidence
We rated the quality of the evidence for smoking cessation to be very low. There were only two studies, and the limitations in these studies made it difficult to draw reliable conclusions about whether video counselling can help people to quit smoking. This should be taken into account when looking at these findings.
There is very little evidence about the effectiveness of real-time video counselling for smoking cessation. The existing research does not suggest a difference between video counselling and telephone counselling for assisting people to quit smoking. However, given the very low GRADE rating due to methodological limitations in the design, imprecision of the effect estimate and inconsistency of cessation rates, the smoking cessation results should be interpreted cautiously. High-quality randomised trials comparing real-time video counselling to telephone counselling are needed to increase the confidence of the effect estimate. Furthermore, there is currently no evidence comparing real-time video counselling to a control group. Such research is needed to determine whether video counselling increases smoking cessation.
Real-time video communication software such as Skype and FaceTime transmits live video and audio over the Internet, allowing counsellors to provide support to help people quit smoking. There are more than four billion Internet users worldwide, and Internet users can download free video communication software, rendering a video counselling approach both feasible and scalable for helping people to quit smoking.
To assess the effectiveness of real-time video counselling delivered individually or to a group in increasing smoking cessation, quit attempts, intervention adherence, satisfaction and therapeutic alliance, and to provide an economic evaluation regarding real-time video counselling.
We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, PubMed, PsycINFO and Embase to identify eligible studies on 13 August 2019. We searched the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform and ClinicalTrials.gov to identify ongoing trials registered by 13 August 2019. We checked the reference lists of included articles and contacted smoking cessation researchers for any additional studies.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), randomised trials, cluster RCTs or cluster randomised trials of real-time video counselling for current tobacco smokers from any setting that measured smoking cessation at least six months following baseline. The real-time video counselling intervention could be compared with a no intervention control group or another smoking cessation intervention, or both.
Two authors independently extracted data from included trials, assessed the risk of bias and rated the certainty of the evidence using the GRADE approach. We performed a random-effects meta-analysis for the primary outcome of smoking cessation, using the most stringent measure of smoking cessation measured at the longest follow-up. Analysis was based on the intention-to-treat principle. We considered participants with missing data at follow-up for the primary outcome of smoking cessation to be smokers.
We included two randomised trials with 615 participants. Both studies delivered real-time video counselling for smoking cessation individually, compared with telephone counselling. We judged one study at unclear risk of bias and one study at high risk of bias. There was no statistically significant treatment effect for smoking cessation (using the strictest definition and longest follow-up) across the two included studies when real-time video counselling was compared to telephone counselling (risk ratio (RR) 2.15, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.38 to 12.04; 2 studies, 608 participants; I2 = 66%). We judged the overall certainty of the evidence for smoking cessation as very low due to methodological limitations, imprecision in the effect estimate reflected by the wide 95% CIs and inconsistency of cessation rates. There were no significant differences between real-time video counselling and telephone counselling reported for number of quit attempts among people who continued to smoke (mean difference (MD) 0.50, 95% CI –0.60 to 1.60; 1 study, 499 participants), mean number of counselling sessions completed (MD –0.20, 95% CI –0.45 to 0.05; 1 study, 566 participants), completion of all sessions (RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.79; 1 study, 43 participants) or therapeutic alliance (MD 1.13, 95% CI –0.24 to 2.50; 1 study, 398 participants). Participants in the video counselling arm were more likely than their telephone counselling counterparts to recommend the programme to a friend or family member (RR 1.06, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.11; 1 study, 398 participants); however, there were no between-group differences on satisfaction score (MD 0.70, 95% CI –1.16 to 2.56; 1 study, 29 participants).