As the nation honors both Black History Month and National Cancer Prevention Month, cancer experts are calling attention to stark disparities in access to cancer screening and follow-up care.
Longstanding access barriers have led to disproportionate cancer burden along racial, cultural, economic and geographic lines. For example, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive forms of breast cancer, in later stages of the disease, and face higher mortality rates than white women. Now — after the pandemic has compounded these challenges, especially for marginalized groups — experts are calling for widespread action to ensure all patients have access to cancer screening and preventive care.
Find out how health systems around the country are addressing expert recommendations to close gaps in care and stay ahead of cancer:
Recommendation #1: Improve communication about cancer screening. The public needs better information about the benefits of cancer screening, as well as information on their personal risk of cancer and the corresponding care recommendations. The panel calls on health systems and other stakeholders to “empower people to apply information and make decisions about their health.” California-based Adventist Health is already at work helping patients better understand their cancer risk and care options through the Adventist Health Early All-Around Detection (AHEAD) Program. The program, now in place at dozens of primary and specialty care sites across the health system, has driven improvements in genetic testing, screening rates, and engagement with patients at all levels of risk. Read the full story here.
Recommendation #2: Promote equitable access to cancer screening. To break down barriers to screening, health systems must strengthen community partnerships and increase access to at-home screening alternatives, like stool-based tests for colorectal cancer or virtual genetic counseling. One health system in Louisiana — a state among the worst in the country for cancer mortality — has found innovative ways to increase access to screening for high-risk patients. With a point-of-care screening program and same-day offerings, CHRISTUS Ochsner Lake Area Hospital drove an increase in screening for eight common cancers, even amid the pandemic, two hurricanes, a deep freeze and flooding. Find out how CHRISTUS Ochsner Lake Area Hospital is improving access to cancer screening here.
Recommendation #3: Empower a broader team of healthcare providers to support cancer risk assessment and screening. To support greater access to cancer risk assessment, health systems must enable a broader team of clinicians to support cancer screening programs and shared-decision making services, including genetic testing and genetic counseling. For example, OSF Healthcare in Illinois overcame a critical shortage of genetic counselors by training a cadre of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in risk assessment and genetic counseling. OSF armed clinicians with software to enable virtual risk assessment, genetic testing and genetic counseling, and ongoing genetics decision support. This empowered them to scale genetic testing and reach an even broader group of patients across the health system. Learn more about OSF Healthcare’s effort to expand the benefits of genetic testing and counseling here.
Recommendation #4: Implement digital tools to accelerate application of evidence-based clinical guidelines. Effective health IT tools are necessary to drive future clinical insight and enable personalized care, particularly as sources of health data continue to grow. Clinical decision support tools embedded into EHR workflows can help support optimal adherence to evidence-based screening guidelines and management of preventive care pathways, particularly in primary care settings, where screening can reach more patients. For example, Northern Light Health in Maine has leveraged CancerIQ’s platform within its Cerner EHR to automate and scale cancer screening across primary care settings.