Development of a multilevel intervention to increase colorectal cancer screening in Appalachia

Implement Sci Commun. 2021 May 19;2(1):51. doi: 10.1186/s43058-021-00151-8.


Background: Colorectal cancer (CRC) screening rates are lower in Appalachian regions of the United States than in non-Appalachian regions. Given the availability of various screening modalities, there is critical need for culturally relevant interventions addressing multiple socioecological levels to reduce the regional CRC burden. In this report, we describe the development and baseline findings from year 1 of "Accelerating Colorectal Cancer Screening through Implementation Science (ACCSIS) in Appalachia," a 5-year, National Cancer Institute Cancer MoonshotSM-funded multilevel intervention (MLI) project to increase screening in Appalachian Kentucky and Ohio primary care clinics.

Methods: Project development was theory-driven and included the establishment of both an external Scientific Advisory Board and a Community Advisory Board to provide guidance in conducting formative activities in two Appalachian counties: one in Kentucky and one in Ohio. Activities included identifying and describing the study communities and primary care clinics, selecting appropriate evidence-based interventions (EBIs), and conducting a pilot test of MLI strategies addressing patient, provider, clinic, and community needs.

Results: Key informant interviews identified multiple barriers to CRC screening, including fear of screening, test results, and financial concerns (patient level); lack of time and competing priorities (provider level); lack of reminder or tracking systems and staff burden (clinic level); and cultural issues, societal norms, and transportation (community level). With this information, investigators then offered clinics a menu of EBIs and strategies to address barriers at each level. Clinics selected individually tailored MLIs, including improvement of patient education materials, provision of provider education (resulting in increased knowledge, p = .003), enhancement of electronic health record (EHR) systems and development of clinic screening protocols, and implementation of community CRC awareness events, all of which promoted stool-based screening (i.e., FIT or FIT-DNA). Variability among clinics, including differences in EHR systems, was the most salient barrier to EBI implementation, particularly in terms of tracking follow-up of positive screening results, whereas the development of clinic-wide screening protocols was found to promote fidelity to EBI components.

Conclusions: Lessons learned from year 1 included increased recognition of variability among the clinics and how they function, appreciation for clinic staff and provider workload, and development of strategies to utilize EHR systems. These findings necessitated a modification of study design for subsequent years.

Trial registration: Trial NCT04427527 is registered at and was registered on June 11, 2020.

Keywords: Appalachia; Colorectal cancer; Implementation; Multilevel interventions.

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