Screening colonoscopies have been credited with turning the tide against colorectal cancer—the second leading cause of death in the United States—with early prevention and treatment. Yet barriers, from patient fears to cultural influences, keep many Americans from undergoing the potentially lifesaving procedure. Even when screening colonoscopies are scheduled, no shows and cancellations are common. Some 10 percent of Northwestern Medicine’s scheduled patients change their minds at the last minute and never make it to their appointments. Not only do patients miss out on this effective preventive health screening but they also contribute to wasted healthcare resources due to unfilled endoscopy appointments.
Patient education remains critical to convincing individuals of the importance of colon cancer screening. In most busy clinical practices, though, healthcare practitioners often can’t devote the necessary time to the topic. Given the constraints of the current patient-primary care provider relationship, novel methods for delivering this vital information are needed to improve screening rates across the nation.
Patient portals have fast become a standard feature of many electronic health records (EHRs) systems. Allowing patients to schedule appointments, access test results and communicate with their doctors, EHRs can present an alternative channel for patient education materials. Northwestern Medicine investigators have already shown that the use of patient portals for educating patients on the importance of pneumonia vaccinations works. Patients who viewed a video on the subject were significantly more likely, than those who didn’t, to agree to being vaccinated. Thanks to a grant from the Digestive Health Foundation, researchers led by Rajesh N. Keswani, MD, Director of Quality for the Digestive Health Center, will apply the novel patient portal concept to colon cancer screening
Creating a two-minute, English and Spanish-language video on the benefits of colonoscopy screening, Dr. Keswani’s research team will conduct a randomized study of patients scheduled for screening or surveillance procedures. Ahead of their appointment, some will receive the video education through the patient portal; others will receive a standard reminder message via the portal. Encouraging more patients to follow through on their appointments could greatly improve the fight against colorectal cancer, a highly preventable disease.