Timely follow-up of positive fecal occult blood tests strategies associated with improvement

Am J Prev Med. 2009 Aug;37(2):87-93. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2009.05.013. Epub 2009 Jun 12.


Background: In light of previous research indicating that many patients fail to receive timely diagnostic follow-up of positive colorectal cancer (CRC) screening tests, the Veterans Health Administration (VA) initiated a national CRC diagnosis quality-improvement (QI) effort.

Purpose: This article documents the percent of patients receiving follow-up within 60 days of a positive CRC screening fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and identifies improvement strategies that predict timely follow-up.

Methods: In 2007, VA facilities completed a survey in which they indicated the degree to which they had implemented a series of improvement strategies and described barriers to improvement. Three types of strategies were assessed: developing QI infrastructure, improving care delivery processes, and building gastroenterology capacity. Survey data were merged with a measure of 60-day positive-FOBT follow-up. Facility-level predictors of timely follow-up were identified and relationships among categories of improvement strategies were assessed. Data were analyzed in 2008.

Results: The median facility-reported 60-day follow-up rate for positive screening FOBTs was 24.5%. Several strategies were associated with timeliness of follow-up. The relationship between the implementation of QI infrastructure strategies and timely follow-up was mediated by the implementation of process-change strategies. Although constraints on gastroenterology capacity were often sited as a key barrier, implementation of strategies to address this issue was unassociated with timely follow-up.

Conclusions: Developing QI infrastructure appears to be an effective strategy for improving FOBT follow-up when this work is followed by process improvements. Increasing gastroenterology capacity may be more difficult than improving processes of care.

MeSH terms

  • Colonoscopy / methods
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Data Collection
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hospitals, Veterans / organization & administration
  • Hospitals, Veterans / standards
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Occult Blood*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / organization & administration
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs