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: