Colorectal Cancer Screening: 4 Steps for Success in Your Practice

By Arthur J. Vayer, Jr., MD, FACS
Woodbridge, Va

Are you talking to your patients about colorectal cancer screening? Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is an important time for conversations with your patients about the disease, including screening and prevention — because your patients are more likely to have seen, heard, or read information about it right now. It’s also the perfect time to assess how your own practice is doing with patient screenings, because you know screening is the secret weapon in the fight against cancer.

Setting up your practice for colorectal cancer screening success is as easy as following 4 steps recommended in a guide by the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT), which was co-funded by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’ve summarized the guide for you below.

#1 Make the Recommendation for a Colorectal Cancer Screening

Are you consistently recommending screenings? According to the guide, the primary reason patients don’t get screened is their doctor didn’t make the recommendation. You can see how this makes communication with your patients critical. Create the messages you and your staff will use to discuss colorectal cancer screening with your patients, which take into consideration their risk status, individual preferences, and insurance coverage. Determine how you will overcome objections relative to their receptivity to screening. Consider how you will present screening options. The guide offers several helpful tools for your practice about screening options and patient readiness, although be advised it does not reflect the new 2018 American Cancer Society guideline for colorectal cancer.

#2 Develop a Colorectal Cancer Screening Policy

Create an action plan for colorectal cancer screening, engaging your staff in its development as well as its execution. Inputs for the plan should include national screening guidelines (which you can find on the colorectal cancer screening guidelines for healthcare professionals page of the American Cancer Society website), the realities of your practice, patient history and risk level, patient preferences and insurance coverage, and local medical resources. Patient education and communication tools are essential to this action plan. Both the NCCRT site and the American Cancer Society page have links to tools for your practice as well as patient education materials you can download.

#3 Be Persistent with Reminders

You procrastinate, get busy, get distracted, and push things to the back burner. And so do your patients. Delays go up especially if the task is something someone doesn’t really want to do — and getting screened for colorectal cancer certainly fits that bill. Develop a system for taking action that includes how and when your office will follow up with patients, like with secure phone calls, letters, and electronic communications they have access to. Beyond tracking whether a screening was done, create a follow-up for all positives as well.

#4 Measure Practice Progress

If you’re not measuring it, you’re not effectively monitoring it; so says common business wisdom. Measure your practice’s progress so you can adjust your plans and policies to increase screening rates among your patients. Ask staff for their feedback to discover opportunities for improvement.

Despite colorectal cancer being the fourth most common cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., only about 70 percent of adults ages 50 to 75 are up to date with their screenings. Physicians are mission-critical to impacting improvement in screening rates, which hopefully will impact treatment success rates as well. Diagnosing your practice for colorectal cancer screening success is imperative if you want to be part of the solution.

Dr. Vayer specializes in surgery with a focus on Colon & Rectal Surgery and has over 20 years of general surgery experience.

The information contained in this blog is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice.