March 4, 2013

Colon cancer screening doubles with new e-health record use

Group Health randomized trial in Annals of Internal Medicine shows cost saving

Seattle, WA—Researchers used electronic health records to identify Group Health patients who weren’t screened regularly for cancer of the colon and rectum—and to encourage them to be screened. This centralized, automated approach doubled these patients’ rates of on-time screening—and saved health costs—over two years. The March 5 Annals of Internal Medicine published the randomized controlled trial.

“Screening for colorectal cancer can save lives, by finding cancer early—and even by detecting polyps before cancer starts,” said study leader Beverly B. Green, MD, MPH. “But screening can’t help if you don’t do it—and do it regularly,” added Dr. Green, a family physician at Group Health and an affiliate investigator at Group Health Research Institute.

More than one in 20 Americans will develop colorectal cancer, which is second only to lung cancer in causing deaths from cancer, Dr. Green said. Screening for colorectal cancer is strongly recommended for everyone age 50 to 75 years, but almost half of Americans do not get screened regularly—far below the screening rates for cervical and breast cancer.

“It’s important to find ways to ensure that more people are screened for colorectal cancer—and keep being screened regularly,” Dr. Green said. “I’ve seen patients die from this cancer. So I was thrilled to find that our intervention doubled screening rates and kept them up to date regularly over two years in people who hadn’t been getting regular screening.”

The SOS (Systems of Support to Increase Colorectal Cancer Screening) trial started by identifying 4,675 Group Health patients, age 50 to 73, who weren’t up to date for colorectal cancer screening. Then they were randomly assigned to one of four stepped groups:

  • The first group received “usual care,” which includes both patient and clinic reminders for those overdue.
  • The second group received this plus “automated” care, which included a letter telling them they were due for colorectal cancer screening and a pamphlet about screening choices and the pros and cons of three screening options recommended by Group Health and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) yearly; flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years (with one FOBT in between); or colonoscopy every decade. Those patients who didn’t call to schedule a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy received a FOBT kit in the mail with illustrated instructions and a postage-paid return envelope and a reminder letter three weeks later if the kit was not completed.
  • The third group received usual care, automated interventions, and an additional step called “assisted” care if they still had not completed screening. Assisted care included a medical assistant calling patients to ask which screening option they preferred and provided simple assistance to get this done, such as sending a request for a colonoscopy to their physician, or reviewing the FOBT instructions.
  • The fourth group received usual care, automated, the assisted intervention, and an additional step called “navigated” care if they were still overdue for screening or requested a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy during the automated or assisted steps. Navigated care included a nurse calling to advise patients and facilitate their screening, for those who wanted help in making their choice or wasn’t screened after the medical assistant’s call. Patients who chose colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy were helped with making an appointment and preparing for the procedure and followed until the test was completed.

Each step of the SOS intervention raised the percentage of patients who were current for colorectal screening for both years: 26 percent for usual, 51 percent for automated, 57 percent for assisted, and 65 percent for navigated care.

The two-year costs of the automated intervention plus the screening were actually $89 lower than if the patients had received only usual care. The reason: compared with patients who received usual care, more of those in the automated care group happened to choose FOBT instead of sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. And the kit costs much less than the procedures do.

“Traditionally, the onus has been on each primary-care doctor to encourage their patients to get health screening tests on schedule,” Dr. Green said. Group Health pioneered using a centralized registry to remind women to be screened regularly for breast cancer. “We borrowed that approach and applied it to colorectal cancer,” she added. “We empowered patients to do testing on time, by giving them options, or sending them a FOBT kit by default if no choice was made.”

What’s next? “We plan to test whether improved adherence persists for more than two years,” she said. This is particularly important for patients who choose FOBT, because it should be repeated every year. “We are also testing this intervention in ‘safety-net’ clinics, which serve low-income people,” Dr. Green added. More of those clinics now have electronic health records and can now leverage these to provide population-based care, similar to Group Health and Kaiser Permanente.

The SOS trial was supported by grant R01CA121125 from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Green’s co-authors at Group Health Research Institute were Assistant Investigator Jessica Chubak, PhD, MBHL, Senior Biostatistician Melissa L. Anderson, MS, and Analyst Programmer Sharon Fuller. Dr. Green has a joint appointment as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and Dr. Chubak is also at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Their other co-authors were Ching-Yun Wang, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle; Richard T. Meenan, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, in Portland, OR; and Sally W. Vernon, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Annals of Internal Medicine

Established in 1927 by the American College of Physicians (ACP), Annals of Internal Medicine is the premier internal medicine journal. Annals of Internal Medicine’s mission is to promote excellence in medicine, enable physicians and other health care professionals to be well informed members of the medical community and society, advance standards in the conduct and reporting of medical research, and contribute to improving the health of people worldwide. To achieve this mission, the journal publishes a wide variety of original research, review articles, practice guidelines, and commentary relevant to clinical practice, health care delivery, public health, health care policy, medical education, ethics, and research methodology. In addition, the journal publishes personal narratives that convey the feeling and the art of medicine.

Health Care Systems Research Network

The Health Care Systems Research Network (formerly HMO Research Network) includes 19 research centers, each associated with a health care delivery system. Researchers at the centers collaborate on multi-site studies in real-world health care settings across the United States and in Israel. With access to information on more than 16 million ethnically and geographically diverse patients, these researchers are finding solutions for common and rare health problems. Since 1994, the Network has been answering pressing questions about keeping people healthy and delivering effective care.

About Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI), formerly Group Health Research Institute, improves the health and health care of Kaiser Permanente members and the public. The Institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems since 1983. Government and private research grants provide our main funding. Follow KPWHRI research on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or YouTube. For more information, go to: www.kpwashingtonresearch.org.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 12.2 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.

Additional study researchers

Jessica Chubak, PhD, MBHL

Senior Investigator
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Melissa L. Anderson, MS

Biostatistician III
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Also published:

Other Group Health researchers published a different study of colorectal screening in the same issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In people of average risk at four HMO Research Network sites, including Group Health, they found that screening colonoscopy was associated with reduced risk of newly diagnosed late-stage cancers for both left- and right-sided colorectal cancers. Screening sigmoidoscopy was associated with a reduced risk of left-sided, but not right-sided, late-stage colorectal cancers. (Cancers differ depending on whether they start on the left or right side of the bowel.)

GHRI's researchers were:

Diana S. Buist, PhD, MPH

Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships; Senior Investigator
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

,



Aruna Kamineni, PhD, MPH

Assistant Investigator
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Eric Johnson, MS

Biostatistician II
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute


Media contact

For more on Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute news, please contact:

Jonathan Rabinovitz
Jonathan.X.Rabinovitz@kp.org

206-287-2055
After-hours media line: 206-448-4056

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