For many people, feeling healthy is reason enough to put off scheduling a preventive exam, even when it’s doctors orders. For others, a busy schedule often gets in the way and there’s just no time. Still other patients put off exams because of cultural and socioeconomic barriers. Some patients, for example, experience financial constraints, language barriers, transportation needs, conflicts with work, and child or elder care demands that make it difficult or impossible to follow through the process of having a screening test. Regardless of the reasons for putting them off, screening tests are vital to everyday health and can prevent sickness or even death.
“Colorectal Cancer Screening (CRCS) has been proven to be an effective means for CRC control and prevention, yet CRC screening rates remain poor. Despite being preventable, CRC continues to kill a disproportionate number of African Americans each year,” said Carmen Guerra MD, MSCE, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “When we have the means to prevent just about every case of colorectal cancer through screening colonoscopy, these deaths are senseless and the racial disparity is a social injustice. Each one of those cases is a painful case of cancer for someone's husband, wife, mother, father, son, or daughter.”
Carmen E. Guerra MD, MSCE, Michael L. Kochman, MD, FACP, Alicia Lamanna, Medical Assistant and patient liaison for the program and Josh Ramos, a Penn junior who was awarded a grant to work on the navigation project.
Together with the Wilmott Professor of Medicine, Michael Kochman, MD, FACP, Guerra is launching Penn Medicine and the Abramson Cancer Center’s West Philadelphia Gastrointestinal (GI) Health Outreach and Access Program, a patient navigation program that aims to improve the colorectal cancer screening rates for the residents of West Philadelphia by providing guidance and assistance every step of the way. They’ll help patients better understand the preparation process that comes before the screening, and provide assistance for transportation to and from the procedure, and financial assistance covering the costs. A patient navigator is a trained health care professional who works on behalf of the patient to identify and overcome potential barriers to obtaining a screening test. Patient navigators guide patients through the health care system to ensure completion of the screening test, and make sure that patients receive information that is matched to their level of health literacy. Originally developed to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in breast cancer outcomes, studies demonstrate that patient navigation programs can successfully increase colonoscopy screening rates among urban minorities. Other studies show that patients who receive navigation services report greater patient satisfaction.