Objectives: Recent surveys of physician practice have suggested the existence of excessive, inappropriate use of the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). We studied the implementation of this test in hospitalized patients.
Methods: We performed a retrospective chart review of 1000 randomly selected patients who had been discharged from the Medicine service at four teaching hospitals. Patient demographics, clinical presentation, presence or absence of overt GI bleeding, and use of medications that might affect the FOBT were recorded. Reviewers assessed whether patients who had FOBT would have been candidates for colon resection if asymptomatic colon cancer had been found.
Results: Digital rectal examination was documented in 44.8% of patients; the findings were recorded in only 9%. A total of 421 patients had FOBT on admission, usually on stool obtained at digital rectal examination. Of the patients with a positive FOBT, 17% had active GI bleeding. Only 41.1% of patients with a positive FOBT were referred to the gastroenterology service. In 70.5% of patients, FOBT could be considered inappropriate because of factors such as age, active GI bleeding, or use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Conclusions: The FOBT, which is validated only for colorectal cancer screening, is often performed inappropriately in patients admitted to the hospital. This test should be restricted in hospital practice. It would be preferable to identify patients who are appropriate candidates for colorectal cancer screening at the time of hospital discharge and to advise them about the appropriate performance of the FOBT at home.