Promoting use of colorectal cancer screening tests. Can we change physician behavior?

J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Dec;20(12):1097-101. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0245.x.


Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening is underutilized despite evidence that screening reduces mortality.

Objective: To assess the effect of an intervention targeting physicians and their patients on rates of CRC screening.

Design: A randomized clinical trial of community physicians and their patients.

Participants: Ninety-four community primary care physicians randomly assigned to an intervention consisting of academic detailing and direct mailings to patients or a control group. Patients aged 50 to 79 years in the intervention group physicians received a letter from their physician, a brochure on CRC screening, and a packet of fecal occult blood test (FOBT) cards.

Measurements: After 1 year we measured receipt of the following: (1) FOBT in the past 2 years, (2) flexible sigmoidoscopy (SIG) or colonoscopy (COL) in the previous 5 years, and (3) any CRC screening. We report the percent change from baseline in both groups.

Results: 9,652 patients were enrolled for 2 years, and 3,732 patients were enrolled for 5 years. There was no increase in any CRC screening that occurred in the intervention group for patients enrolled for 2 years (12.7 increase vs 12.5%, P=.51). Similar results were seen for any CRC screening among patients enrolled for 5 years (9.7% increase vs 8.6%, P=.45). The only outcome on which the intervention had an effect was on patient rates of screening SIG (7.4% increase vs 4.4%, P<.01).

Conclusion: With the exception of an increase in rates of SIG in the intervention group, the intervention had no effect on rates of CRC screening. Future interventions should assess innovative approaches to increase rates of CRC screening.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Family / education*
  • Professional Practice*