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Overcoming Preventive Care Gaps That Led to Health Disparities During COVID

Posted by Mike Rigert on Jul 12, 2021 8:30:00 AM

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that extended delays in cancer screenings during the pandemic widened existing health disparities among women, particularly minorities.

The total number of cancer screenings conducted through the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program fell 87 percent for breast cancer and 84 percent for cervical cancer in April 2020 compared to previous five-year averages for the month.

Declines in screenings in the program corresponded with spikes in COVID cases in the spring of 2020. Likely reasons for the declines include screening site closures, temporary suspension of screening services, and patients’ fear of becoming infected with the virus during that time.

Extended delays in preventive screenings like breast and cervical cancer often lead to delayed diagnoses, poor outcomes, and increases health disparities among women already experiencing health inequities, the report states.

Social determinants of health (SDOH) like patients’ low incomes and decreased access to healthcare during COVID exacerbated already existing health disparities for those in the program. For example:

  • Declines in breast cancer screening varied from 84 percent among Hispanic women to 98 percent among American Indian/Alaskan Native women.
  • Declines in cervical cancer screening ranged from 82 percent among Black women to 92 percent among Asian Pacific Islander women.

Though the CDC reports that screening volumes for the program began to recover in all groups by June 2020, these findings underscore the importance of getting patients timely care. Healthcare organizations need to have active, ongoing recall and chronic care management strategies to get patients in the office for routine screenings and exams. It also shows that we can do better by working to minimize delays in testing that particularly impact patients affected by SDOH and with chronic care challenges.

The sticking point here, as always, is how do you effectively reach patients, notify them to schedule much-needed care, and confirm their visits in an era where it’s increasingly difficult to connect with people? The latest patient communication preference data shows that most patients don’t want to be bothered by phone calls. Instead, they want more text message interaction with providers. Texting between patients and their providers increased 14 percent during the pandemic, while patients’ desire for phone calls fell 14 percent. Regardless of age, texting continues to be the way today’s patients want to communicate.

Through automated text reminders and the ability to send group messages to patients based on their specific diagnoses, age, or other demographics, providers can streamline the workflow of recall and preventive care efforts.

Texting allows providers to reach more patients more effectively in a way that leads to greater rates of visit confirmations, reduced no-shows, and fuller appointment schedules. A text-first approach and a refined workflow that helps you more effortlessly connect with patients at key points in the care journey can offer improved access to patients who could greatly benefit from routine preventive and chronic care participation and adherence.

For more information how texting and a new appointment workflow can greatly amplify your efforts you get patients in for preventative screenings and chronic care management, check out the guide, “A Perfect Appointment Workflow: A Path to Improved Patient Outcomes and Increased Revenue.”

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Mike Rigert

Written by Mike Rigert

Mike Rigert has been a content writer in marketing and communications with several technology companies for over a decade. At SR Health, Rigert is tasked with creating compelling content that helps healthcare providers overcome their patient communication inefficiencies to make their organizations more profitable. When he’s not typing away on his computer, he enjoys discussing sci-fi, reading nonfiction, and eating chocolate.