Postreferral colonoscopy delays in diagnosis of colorectal cancer: a mixed-methods analysis

Qual Manag Health Care. 2012 Oct-Dec;21(4):252-61. doi: 10.1097/QMH.0b013e31826d1f28.


Background: Delays in diagnosis of colorectal cancer (CRC) are one of the most common reasons for malpractice claims and lead to poor outcomes. However, they are not well studied.

Aims: We used a mixed quantitative-qualitative approach to analyze postreferral colonoscopy delays in CRC patients and explored referring physician's perception of processes surrounding these delays.

Methods: Two physician-raters conducted independent electronic health record reviews of new CRC cases in a large integrated safety-net system to determine postreferral colonoscopy delays, which we defined as failures to perform colonoscopy within 60 days of referral for an established indication(s). To explore perceptions of colonoscopy processes, we conducted semistructured interviews with a sample of primary care physicians (PCPs) and used a content analysis approach.

Results: Of 104 CRC cases that met inclusion criteria, reviewers agreed on the presence of postreferral colonoscopy delays in 35 (33.7%) cases; κ = 0.99 (95% CI, 0.83-0.99). The median time between first referral and completion of colonoscopy was 123.0 days (range 62.0-938.0; interquartile range = 90.0 days). In about two-thirds of instances (64.8%), the reason for delay was a delayed future appointment with the gastroenterology service. On interviews, PCPs attributed long delays in scheduling to reduced endoscopic capacity and inefficient processes related to colonoscopy referral and scheduling, including considerable ambiguity regarding referral guidelines. Many suggested that navigation models be applied to streamline CRC diagnosis.

Conclusion: Postreferral delays in CRC diagnosis are potentially preventable. A comprehensive mixed-methods methodology might be useful for others to identify the steps in the diagnostic process that are in most need for improvement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Colonoscopy*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Delayed Diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Qualitative Research
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Time Factors
  • United States