Supporting people affected by problematic alcohol, substance use and other behaviours under pandemic conditions: A pragmatic evaluation of how SMART recovery Australia responded to COVID-19
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic prompted rapid, reflexive transition from face-to-face to online healthcare. For group-based addiction services, evidence for the impact on service delivery and participant experience is limited. Methods: A 12-month (plus 2-month follow-up) pragmatic evaluation of the upscaling of online mutual-help groups by SMART Recovery Australia (SRAU) was conducted using The Reach Effectiveness Adoption Implementation Maintenance (RE-AIM) framework. Data captured by SRAU between 1st July 2020 and 31st August 2021 included participant questionnaires, Zoom Data Analytics and administrative logs. Results: Reach: The number of online groups increased from just 6 pre-COVID-19 to 132. These groups were delivered on 2786 (M = 232.16, SD = 42.34 per month) occasions, to 41,752 (M = 3479.33, SD = 576.34) attendees. Effectiveness: Participants (n = 1052) reported finding the online group meetings highly engaging and a positive, recovery supportive experience. 91 % of people with experience of face-to-face group meetings rated their online experience as equivalent or better. Adoption: Eleven services (including SRAU) and five volunteers delivered group meetings for the entire 12-months. Implementation: SRAU surpassed their goal of establishing 100 groups. Maintenance: The average number of meetings delivered [t(11.14) = -1.45, p = 0.1737] and attendees [t(1.95) = -3.28, p = 0.1880] per month were maintained across a two-month follow-up period. Conclusions: SRAU scaled-up the delivery of online mutual-help groups in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings support the accessibility, acceptability and sustainability of delivering SMART Recovery mutual-help groups online. Not only are these findings important in light of the global pandemic and public safety, but they demonstrate the potential for reaching and supporting difficult and under-served populations.
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