UNC partners with Community Health Centers to improve colorectal cancer screening

Toolkit moves best practices to the community

Chapel Hill, NC – An innovative partnership between UNC and the North Carolina Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA) is bringing a toolkit offering best practices for improving colorectal cancer screening rates to 136 clinics across the state.

The tailored toolkit, developed and distributed with support from the University Cancer Research Fund (UCRF), is tailored to the needs of clinics that serve a large proportion of uninsured or underinsured patients.  It includes information on making changes to patient visits, counseling patients on screening options, using reminder systems and focusing on alternative forms of screening.

“We worked closely with a committee of Community Health Center providers, who gave us outstanding advice on how to adapt an existing toolkit created by the American Cancer Society for their practice setting.  As a result, the toolkit is more concise and user friendly, and focuses on using less expensive screening methods that may be appropriate and effective,” said UNC’s Catherine Rohweder, DrPH.

“The timing of this project coincides with many Community Health Centers moving toward Meaningful Use and certification as a patient-centered medical home. For those clinics working toward improving rates of colorectal cancer screening, this toolkit is designed to help them do that more easily and efficiently,” said Marti Wolf, Director of Clinical Programs at the NCCHCA.

Rohweder, who is Director of NC SPEED (North Carolina Statewide Push for Excellence Engagement and Delivery), was first author on the toolkit.  NC SPEED works to more quickly move research findings into practice and is funded by the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the North Carolina Clinical and Translational Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, UNC’s NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).

“This project fits perfectly into UCRF’s strategic objective of improving cancer outcomes in North Carolina.  Early diagnosis of colorectal cancer provides a window of opportunity for treatment and better survival rates,” said Shelley Earp, MD, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“But it doesn’t stop there” said Bryan Weiner, PhD, a UNC health policy researcher who has a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the implementation and costs of using the toolkit. “Understanding the health systems implications of increased screening is crucial to efficient use of our health care dollars,” he added.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in North Carolina, taking the lives of almost 1500 citizens each year.  While the disease can strike at any age, current screening guidelines recommend that those with average risk be screened beginning at age 50.  The U.S. Public Health Service approves three type of screening for the average risk patient: fecal occult blood testing every year, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or colonoscopy every ten years.

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