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How to Increase Preventive Cancer Screening for Medicare Patients (and Why It Matters)

Jon-Michial Carter
Written by Jon-Michial Carter

Preventive cancer screenings play a pivotal role in identifying common cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer, in their earliest and most treatable stages. But around 40% of all eligible patients skip colorectal cancer screenings, largely because of fear or a lack of information. Though screening rates are higher for breast cancer, roughly 25% of Medicare patients still avoid them, in part due to a lack of access.

Medicare-sponsored programs like Chronic Care Management (CCM) and Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs) can give eligible patients the information and assistance they need to pursue these screenings.

Through AWVs and CCM, patients gain a stronger connection to their practice and their provider and receive frequent reminders about the importance of cancer screenings, as well as resources for where to find them.

Keep reading to learn how AWVs and CCM can help you close care gaps, increase your screening rates, and, ultimately, give your Medicare patients the care they need for better health outcomes.

Why Preventive Cancer Screening Is Important

Cancer is a formidable adversary, and early detection can increase patients’ survival rates. Colorectal cancer and breast cancer, in particular, require preventive screenings every one or two years for most adults over the age of 45, a group that encompasses many Medicare patients. 

Let's take a closer look at why screenings for these specific cancers are so crucial:

Breast Cancer

More than 300,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed annually in the U.S., making it the most common form of cancer. Screenings can help providers detect breast cancer early and increase patients’ chances of survival: 

  1. Regular screenings can help identify abnormalities, such as lumps or changes in breast tissue, that might indicate cancer.
  2. Early detection through mammograms and clinical breast exams significantly improves survival rates.

By detecting breast cancer at an early stage, treatment options are more effective, less aggressive, and have a higher likelihood of success.

Colon Cancer

Like breast cancer, colon cancer requires regular screening and is one of the most common cancers, with more than 150,000 people diagnosed each year in the U.S. 

  • Screening methods, such as colonoscopies and fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), can detect precancerous growths and early-stage cancer.
  • Removing polyps during a colonoscopy can prevent the development of cancer altogether.
  • Early detection is vital because advanced colon cancer is more challenging to treat and has a lower survival rate.

Preventive cancer screening, especially for breast and colon cancers, can help patients receive less expensive, less invasive treatments and live longer lives. Fortunately, preventive care programs like Chronic Care Management and Annual Wellness Visits can have a direct impact on how frequently patients receive these screenings.

How Chronic Care Management Helps with Preventive Cancer Screening

Chronic Care Management (CCM) is a comprehensive approach to healthcare that focuses on improving the long-term outcomes of Medicare patients with chronic conditions. At ChartSpan, we believe part of CCM’s mission is to promote lower-cost, preventive care, such as cancer screenings. Here are five ways our CCM care coordinators can help encourage screenings for Medicare patients:

1. Patient Engagement

CCM encourages regular communication between patients, care coordinators, and healthcare providers, fostering trust and open dialogue. Care coordinators engage with patients every month, giving them multiple opportunities a year to identify and discuss missing screenings. Coordinators can also educate patients about the importance of different types of screenings and address any concerns or misconceptions they may have.

2. Appointment Scheduling

If a patient is missing a cancer screening, the provider or care coordinator can help them with the logistics of scheduling their appointment. 

For example, at ChartSpan we give all healthcare practices the opportunity to provide a list of mammogram locations they prefer, whether that means mobile sites, providers’ offices, or hospitals. Care coordinators can then give patients the contact information for those sites or even schedule appointments for them, where permitted.

3. Risk Assessment

CCM includes regular assessments of a patient's overall health, which can help identify risk factors for cancer. At the primary provider’s request, care coordinators can also request records from multiple providers and synchronize them, providing a more complete picture of the patient’s overall health. Providers can use this information to determine when and how often patients should undergo cancer screenings.

4. Medication Management

Some medications can increase patients’ risk of cancer or affect the accuracy of screenings. CCM care coordinators can alert the primary provider to all of the medications a patient is taking to ensure the right screenings are conducted and screening and medication interactions are accounted for.

5. Emotional and Psychological Support

For patients with a personal or family history of cancer, screenings can be anxiety-inducing. Care coordinators can talk with patients and provide them with resources like support groups or educational information to help them overcome their fears and receive their recommended screenings. 

By offering all these forms of support, ChartSpan has been able to substantially increase the number of breast and colon cancer screenings among CCM patients. One Federally Qualified Health Center saw an 8.3% increase in breast cancer screenings and a 2.6% increase in colon cancer screenings after partnering with ChartSpan. 

Across our patient population, ChartSpan was able to encourage more than 11,000 people to receive breast and colon cancer screenings in one year.

How Annual Wellness Visits Help with Preventive Cancer Screening

Medicare created Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs) to identify potential health issues and ensure patients are up-to-date with essential screenings and vaccinations once each year. Becasue AWVs are so focused on preventive care, they can help ensure Medicare patients receive the cancer screenings they need.

1. Personalized Prevention Plans

During an AWV, patients work with their healthcare providers to create a personalized prevention plan. This plan may include recommendations for breast and colon cancer screenings based on the patient's age, gender, and risk factors.

The provider can also talk about the importance of adhering to recommended cancer screening schedules, when to start screenings, and how often screenings should occur, based on the patient’s health history.

2. Risk Assessment

The Health Risk Assessment allows providers to identify whether patients have risk factors for cancer, like family history, other conditions, or environmental factors. The provider can then recommend earlier or more frequent screenings, if needed. They can also make it clear if the patient has reached an age where screenings can take place less frequently.

3. Referrals and Follow-Ups

If a patient is due for a mammogram, a colonoscopy, or another common screening test, the AWV can serve as an opportunity to schedule these screenings and close care gaps. Providers can also refer patients to specialists if patients have any concerning symptoms or worrying findings from their screenings.

4. Health Recommendations

AWVs often include discussions about lifestyle factors that can influence cancer risk, such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation. Providers can offer guidance on making healthy choices that reduce the likelihood of cancer development. If the provider also has a Chronic Care Management program, the care coordinator can follow up to help the patient set and reach their health goals. 

Across the U.S., AWVs increased the average rate of colorectal cancer screenings for Medicare patients from 60 to 69% and the average rate of breast cancer screenings from 66 to 81%. 

At practices that offer ChartSpan’s AWV software, patients can complete their Health Risk Assessment before their appointment begins. This gives the provider more time to discuss their health needs and potential cancer screenings once they’re in the room.

Using AWVs and CCMs to Increase Preventive Cancer Screening

Regular cancer screenings, especially for breast and colon cancer, can mean the difference between early intervention and facing a more challenging, advanced-stage disease. Chronic Care Management (CCM) and Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs) play integral roles in promoting these screenings, ensuring that patients are well-informed, supported, and proactive about their health. 

If you’d like to learn more about the connection between CCM, AWVs, and patients’ well-being, check out our research on “Empowering Healthier Lives: The Profound Impact of Chronic Care Management on Patient Outcomes.”

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