Research Builds ‘Playbook’ to Help More Black and Hispanic Patients Get Tested for Colon Cancer

Research Builds ‘Playbook’ to Help More Black and Hispanic Patients Get Tested for Colon Cancer.

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Our study examines how to overcome the barriers clinics face to implementing programs to help Black and Hispanic patients get screened for colon cancer.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) develops slowly so that early detection can save lives. Yet screening can’t help if it’s never completed, and many social, economic, and practical barriers can make it difficult for Black and Hispanic patients to get a colonoscopy or a home stool test.

Researchers at MedStar Health are building on research that shows that patient navigation programs can make CRC screening much more effective, helping patients access the care they need and stay healthy by:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Preparing for appointments
  • Securing transportation
  • Overcoming stigma related to the colon and stool
  • Understanding the process of how to prepare for a colonoscopy or conduct a home stool test

Our study, “Bridging the Gap: Delivering Equitable Colorectal Cancer Screening,” is designed to reach the core of various factors that can impact the ongoing success of patient navigation programs for CRC screening. We’re working with 15 clinics to understand their workflow, staffing, patient population, and community context to identify workable opportunities for launching and sustaining CRC patient navigation programs.

This five-year study aims to create a “playbook” to help more clinics establish patient navigation programs to help more Black and Hispanic patients get screened. 

Helping clinics help patients.

Black individuals are about 40% more likely to die from CRC than members of other groups. Hispanic patients face similar concerns, with sharp increases in early-onset CRC. Patient navigation programs for CRC screening can help reverse these negative trends.

To accomplish this, we’re taking a varied approach. We’re interviewing patients, providers, and clinic staff. To date, we’ve completed over a dozen interviews with providers and six interviews with patients, working to learn their perspectives about the barriers to implementing navigation programs. 

Our researchers discuss the results of these interviews with an advisory board, which includes representatives from insurance providers, housing agencies, patient navigation trainers, and advocacy groups. The advisory board helps to identify barriers outside the clinic. Together, we are developing collaborative solutions for each participating clinic.

Implementation science in the field.

In the summer, we plan to roll out evidence-based patient navigation programs in three clinics at a time. We’ll compare trends in CRC screening among Black and Hispanic patients at clinics with implemented programs against clinics whose programs have not yet been launched. Key metrics will include:

  • How many Black and Hispanic patients complete CRC screening
  • Which interventions were used
  • Time to implementation
  • Modifications, if any

All clinics will get a program by the end of this five-year study. Ultimately, we’ll develop strategies that can be generalized to more clinics, providing a playbook to help more people get screened for CRC and save more lives.

Related reading: How Colonoscopies Can Prevent Colon Cancer.

It’s time to take action.

Inequities in CRC screening, diagnosis, and cancer-related deaths make a significant impact on our communities. Screening is vital to early detection and cancer prevention—polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy before they become cancer. And patient navigation programs help patients get screened.

When we recognize disparities exist and identify a way to help, we are responsible for acting. MedStar Health and MedStar Health Research Institute are committed to making a difference—this study is just one example of how we put our values into action.

Want more information about the MedStar Health Research Institute?

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