1st Choice Clinics Raise Colon Cancer Screening Rates by Almost Eight Percent
Colorectal cancer screening rates have risen by almost eight percent in one year for 1st Choice Healthcare clinics in northeast Arkansas, the first clinic partner in UAMS’ Partnerships in Colorectal Cancer Screening for Arkansas (PiCS-AR!), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant.
Five out of six clinics in Salem, Pocahontas, Paragould, Corning and Ash Flat have pushed beyond their initial screening goals for colorectal cancer, the second most common cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined in the United States. First Choice Healthcare’s colorectal screening rate was at 37 percent a year ago, and most of the clinics hover in the mid-40s now. Pocahontas was a big winner with a jump from 29 percent to 45 percent, 16 points higher than a year ago.
Since September of 2020, UAMS and Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC) have coached patient navigators at the clinics, a large piece of the success story. AFMC’s Stacey George, APRN, teaches the clinics about evidence-based interventions and ways to increase screening rates. Provider reminders/chart alerts in the clinics’ electronic health system worked particularly well. When patients visited, the clinic staff would check if they were due for a screening and set up appointments for those that needed it. George also pulls statistics from the clinics regularly to check progress.
“The leadership team at 1st Choice Healthcare has been engaged since the beginning,” said George. “They quickly embraced the opportunity to add patient navigators to their team, and we have seen the impact those ladies have made on the colorectal cancer screening rates in a very short period of time. To see the individual clinics and the healthcare system as a whole with marked improvements in their screening rates — in the middle of a pandemic — is phenomenal.”
Sandy Green, RN and director of nursing for 1st Choice, said the patient navigators educate the patient about the risk of developing colon cancer, and they explain the options for screening. A colonoscopy is the clearest, most complete screening, but another option is an at-home stool specimen test which offers a clue if cancer is present.
“The navigators are experienced RNs that are comfortable talking about colorectal cancer at all six of our clinics. Statistics have shown that dedicated resources to colon cancer screening education improves the number of people that are compliant with completing screening exams. Completing the screening in a timely manner will save lives,” said Green.
The team created a campaign around the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), one of the at-home tests patients can do at home by sending in a smear of stool, which is easier and cheaper than a colonoscopy. The “FIT just takes a BIT” campaign launched in March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. The clinic staff wore buttons, gave out poo emoji stressballs and FIT tests to all patients eligible for the screening. The CDC recommends screening for colorectal cancer to begin at age 45.
Marybeth Curtis, RN and program manager for PiCS-AR!, created the “FIT just takes a BIT” campaign.
“We needed a way to address a socially uncomfortable topic,” said Curtis. “The poo emoji on the pin was something people recognized, and it started conversations with patients asking, ‘What is FIT?’ Then, healthcare professionals were even more comfortable in bringing up the subject with patients. When was the last time you remember a healthcare provider asking you about your BMs? This is the stigma we were trying to overcome.”