Midwest Researcher Working to Drive Up Colon Cancer Screening Rates
Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented through screening. But about 1 in 3 American adults who need to be screened for colorectal cancer is not doing so.
Jennifer Weiss, MD, a researcher and physician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is working on a solution to this problem. She is conducting research, funded by the American Cancer Society, to help health systems nationwide increase their colorectal cancer screening rates – and save more lives.
Dr. Weiss’ research has already led to a significant improvement in the colorectal cancer screening rate within the University of Wisconsin health system – increasing it from 65% in 2008, when she began her work, to 80% today.
Many barriers to colorectal cancer screening exist for patients, doctors, and health systems. Dr. Weiss and her partners found the following in their initial research:
- For patients, there’s a lot of resistance to getting a colonoscopy because of the prep. Also, a lot of patients just didn’t know when they were due to be screened.
- For doctors, they were having trouble easily identifying which patients were due for screening.
- For health systems, a major issue was a long waiting list for a colonoscopy.
Working with a taskforce of gastroenterologists, primary care doctors, clinic managers, and health insurance company representatives, Dr. Weiss developed several interventions to address these barriers and raise colorectal cancer screening rates, including:
- Devising a health maintenance alert: when a patient comes to see their doctor, a yellow box pops up and indicates if the patient is due for screening. The box also includes links to screening guidelines and allows the provider to order any type of colorectal screening exam.
- Creating a centralized scheduling system: to address the long waiting list for screening tests, the task force reorganized the scheduling system to make it easier for people to get tested at different locations, and make more efficient use of available time slots for colonoscopies.
Now, her team is trying to answer a new question – which interventions worked best and are there certain groups of people for whom particular interventions worked better. Dr. Weiss will take her findings and create a toolkit that health care systems can use to help improve colorectal screening rates.
Despite the evidence that screening tests work, Dr. Weiss knows there’s still many people unnecessarily dying from colorectal cancer. She says, “the biggest thing that influenced me is realizing colorectal cancer is preventable, and colonoscopies to remove pre-cancerous polyps are amazing procedures as they remove the polyp before it turns cancerous, which isn’t really possible for other cancers.”
For more information on colorectal cancer, visit cancer.org or call 1-800-227-2345.