Background: It is unclear whether lack of follow-up after screening fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) in older adults is due to screening patients whose comorbidity or preferences do not permit follow-up vs failure to complete follow-up in healthy patients.
Methods: A prospective cohort study of 2410 patients 70 years or older screened with FOBT was conducted at 4 Veteran Affairs (VA) medical centers from January 1 to December 31, 2001. The main outcome measure was receipt of follow-up within 1 year of FOBT based on national VA and Medicare data. For patients with positive FOBT results, age and Charlson comorbidity scores were evaluated as potential predictors of receiving a complete colon evaluation (colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy plus barium enema), and medical records were reviewed to determine reasons for lack of follow-up.
Results: A total of 212 patients (9%) had positive FOBT results; 42% received a complete colon evaluation within 1 year. Age and comorbidity were not associated with receipt of a complete follow-up, which was similar among patients 70 to 74 years old with a Charlson score of 0 compared with patients 80 years or older with a Charlson score of 1 or higher (48% vs 41%; P=.28). The VA site, number of positive FOBT cards, and number of VA outpatient visits were predictors. Of 122 patients who did not receive a complete follow-up within 1 year, 38% had documentation that comorbidity or preferences did not permit follow-up, and over the next 5 years 76% never received a complete follow-up.
Conclusions: While follow-up after positive FOBT results was low regardless of age or comorbidity, screening patients in whom complete evaluation would not be pursued substantially contributes to lack of follow-up. Efforts to improve follow-up should address the full chain of decision making, including decisions to screen and decisions to follow up.
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