Automated and live phone calls were shown to improve patient return of fecal test samples for both English and Spanish speakers, based on the results of a pilot study.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second deadliest cancer in the United States. In 2017 alone, 50,000 people died from the disease. Screening has been shown to be a very effective tool in decreasing the mortality and incidence of CRC, butare low with 63% of adults adhering to recommended screening schedules. This problem has been addressed by direct-mail fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) kits with associated reminders, but few studies have evaluated effectiveness of follow-up techniques on FIT return rates until this pilot study.
“While many direct-mail fecal testing programs have delivered patient reminders, ours is the first study to rigorously test the effectiveness of these reminders in a community health center population, and among patients with differing language preferences,” wrote Gloria Coronado, PhD, of the Center for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente and her colleagues. “We observed important variations in return rates based on reminder mode used, and both the overall return rate and reminder mode effectiveness differed according to patients’ language preferences.”
The trial had two groups, one randomized and the other nonrandomized. Nonrandomized patients had active patient portals and received email reminders through the portal. The randomized group was sorted into seven intervention groups: Four of the groups used a unimodal contact method and three groups used a multimodal contact method. The unimodal contact methods were letter reminders, automated call reminders, text reminders, and live call reminders. The multimodal contact methods were a reminder letter plus live call reminders, automated calls plus live call reminders, and text message reminders plus live call reminders. All written materials to contact patients were developed in English and later translated into Spanish and Russian. Phone call scripts were also developed in English and later translated into Spanish but not Russian due to a lack of Russian speaking outreach workers.
After combining early-return FIT samples, those in the nonrandomized patient portal group, and the randomized samples, the overall return rate was 32.7%.
The method of contact for patients strongly influenced return rates for patients. Patients who received live phone calls were 50% more likely to return their FIT kit, compared with those who simply received a reminder email. Both English and Spanish speakers were much more likely to return their FIT kits if they were contacted with live or automated phone calls with odds ratios of 2.17 and 3.45, respectively. All other reminder techniques that did not include a phone call had similar completion rates to that of a reminder letter.
“Automated phone calls and text messages are the least costly options to implement, yet live reminders may allow staff to address or triage other patient health care needs,” they wrote.
Dr. Gloria Coronado was a coinvestigator for a study funded by Epigenomics. All other authors had no conflicts of interest to report.