Dr. Chris Tonozzi is Mountain Family's Director of Data Quality.

By Dr. Chris Tonozzi, MD, Director of Data Quality

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Lots of scientific evidence has concluded that we can easily prevent colon cancer and we have the following things on our side in this struggle:

  • We know screening should start at age 50 for most people
  • The screening can be very easy, like submitting a tiny sample of stool once yearly
  • The cost of the test is very low: Mountain Family charges $26

Things can get a little more complicated. Many people get colonoscopy (a scope of the colon) for their screening. This makes things easier, in that it only needs to be done every 10 years, but it is much more expensive. It also requires 1 – 2 days off from work for the preparation and scoping procedure. There are also many people who should have different screening schedules. For example, if you’ve had a close relative get colon cancer you should start screening at age 40, or 10 years before the relative was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Considering that this is generally an easy disease to prevent, how are we at Mountain Family doing at getting our patients to have this done? You’d think it might be approaching 100%. Our data tells a mixed story. Below is the percentage of our patients who need the testing, who had it done over the last year, or our screening rate. The good news is that we’re better than the average of other community health centers in Colorado (the average is 36%). We’re very close to our goal of having 39.9% of our patients screened, which is the average screening rate for community health centers in the nation. But, we’d love to be hitting this figure “out of the park” and have almost all our patients screened.

What is Mountain Family doing to increase this? Here are some of the efforts:

  • Every three months, we’re able to run reports from our Electronic Health Record regarding who needs the test. Our call center staff then call every patient on that list to suggest that they come in to have the test done.
  • Over the last year, our staff have participated in a program in which they receive a bonus if this rate is at or above the national community health center average.
  • We know we give out lots of these screening tests to patients, but only a proportion of them bring the test with a stool sample back in to have it done. We’ve recently set up a system to call these patients back and remind them to bring the sample back.
  • We’ve invested in a software program that would allow us to send out reminders via text message if a patient needs the test done.