Stop for a moment and think about all the factors that prevent you from improving your health. Maybe you’ve been meaning to get into an exercise routine, but you don’t have time in the mornings before work and you’re just too tired by the time you get home. Perhaps you’re overdue for your annual check-up, but your preferred physician is no longer in-network under your health insurance plan. You might even be overdue for a preventative screening like a colonoscopy, but you’re worried about racking up huge medical bills or you’re afraid of the preparation process.
We all have barriers that keep us from being as healthy as we want to be, and these are the exact problems that health experts are trying to solve. With just 65.1 percent of eligible Americans up-to-date on preventative colon cancer screenings, it’s clear that we’ve got some work to do before reaching the National Colon Cancer Roundtable’s goal of 80% by 2018.
One way that health experts are trying to improve screening rates is by identifying underserved populations that have particularly low screening rates. Previous studies have identified racial and ethnic disparities in colorectal cancer, showing that ethnic minorities have much lower colon cancer screening rates and much higher rates of colon cancer incidence and mortality. Now, researchers have identified another demographic in need of increased preventative screenings – people with disabilities.
Researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine performed an observational study in which they observed preventative screening adherence rates of the general population and compared them to screening rates of adults with intellectual disabilities, spinal cord injuries, or blindness or low vision. The study included South Carolina Medicaid and Medicare claims, state health plan claims and hospital discharge data from 2000 to 2009.
The researchers discovered that individuals with disabilities had lower screening adherence rates than the general population. The overall screening rate for the general public was 48 percent. Only 34 percent of people with intellectual disabilities, 44 percent of people with spinal cord injuries and 46 percent of people with blindness or visual impairment adhered to current screening guidelines for colon cancer.
Study author Chelsea Deroche, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biostatistics in the MU Department of Health Management and Informatics, believes that these low screening rates are the result of specific barriers that prevent eligible patients from being screened. She suggests that patients with visual impairments or physical disabilities may not have reliable access to transportation that can take them to and from appointments. Individuals with intellectual disabilities may be in group homes where preventative screenings are not a priority. Doctors may also have difficulty communicating screening guidelines to patients in a way they are able to understand.
"These individuals may not be routinely screened for colorectal cancer due to a lack of education and awareness, transportation challenges or other barriers," Deroche explained. "These findings support the need for increased awareness and targeted advocacy outreach efforts to both physicians and caregivers to ensure all individuals are screened appropriately” (Source: Medical Express).
Deroche would like to see overall screening rates increase over the next five to 10 years, especially in patients with disabilities. However, she explains that this will require a community effort on the part of patients, caretakers, and health care providers. Deroche and her colleagues plan to expand their research efforts with future studies including larger population groups and different types of tumors.
We want to do a wider study — because we did just do South Carolina – with a general US population to validate what we’ve done here and that these findings are nation-wide,” she said (Source: Oncology Nursing News).