Problem: Low screening and referral rates for colorectal cancer at a primary care clinic suggest the need for alternative methods to identify patients and complete the screening process.
Design: A review of >5000 medical charts established baseline screening and referral data. After a 3-month trial of a screening protocol, the research team conducted a follow-up medical chart review to determine referral levels.
Background and setting: The clinic is an 8-physician primary care facility in Southlake, Texas, and is one of 36 clinics affiliated with HealthTexas Provider Network.
Key measures for improvement: The goal was to increase referrals for colorectal cancer to at least 85% among patients aged 50 to 75 years.
Strategies for improvement: The entire staff of the primary care clinic and the gastroenterology office became involved in the referral process. The team used simple tools such as chart stickers to draw attention to patients requiring screening, generation of referral forms that were numbered for follow-up and faxed to the gastroenterologists, and patient educational material on colorectal cancer screening. These tools were designed to overcome specific barriers to successful screening that the team had identified.
Effects of change: Referrals for sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and double-contrast barium enema increased from 47% to 86%. Fecal occult blood testing was arranged for additional patients through the primary care office. Revenues related to colonoscopies increased by about 50% for the gastroenterologist group, the hospital, and the pathology group affiliated with Southlake Family Medicine.
Lessons learned: This colorectal cancer screening protocol succeeded in its 3-month trial because it was collaborative, opportunistic, simple, and made good business sense. The protocol is now being implemented at other HealthTexas Provider Network offices.