Six Patient Engagement Strategies to Reengage Undiagnosed Cancer Patients

June 11, 2021 | Stericycle Communication Solutions

Across the nation, a new patient engagement crisis is emerging. Health systems are witnessing a tremendous decrease in preventive cancer screenings and declining cancer diagnosis rates. If health systems don't address this new crisis, excess cancer deaths in the comings years will increase severely.

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However, with health systems continuing to focus on vaccinating patients and other effects of the pandemic, it can seem overwhelming to add another area to turn your focus.

Cancer Screenings Decreased in 2020

According to the Epic Health Research Network, routine cancer screenings decreased tremendously nationwide from January to April 2020. In fact, screenings specifically for breast and cervical cancers dropped by 94 percent, and colon cancer screenings dropped by 86 percent.

"We have a backlog of over 5,000 colonoscopies alone from the spring shutdown," said John Carethers, chair of internal medicine at the University of Michigan. To make matters worse, some patients' appointments had to be further postponed due to the continuous backlog.

In addition, cancer diagnosis rates are also declining. A study by JAMA Network Open compared weekly incidence reports from January through April 2020 of six common cancers, such as lung and colorectal cancer, to the same time period in 2019 and found rates declined significantly. For example, the incidence of breast cancer dropped by up to 51 percent.

Even more, The National Cancer Institute predicts there will be 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancers alone over the next decade in the United States.  Similarly, a Lancet study estimates that there may be an increase in cancer deaths due to diagnostic delays over the next five years, ranging from 4.8 percent for lung cancer to 16.6 percent for colorectal cancer.

The delayed screenings will have an even more significant effect on underserved communities such as Black, Native American, Latino, and Hispanic. In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death among the Latino community. Before the pandemic, these communities already had lower screening rates, and we will likely witness that screening rate drop even further because of the pandemic.

"I think that if we see 10,000 excess cancer deaths over ten years, the proportion of minority communities affected will be greater unless something is done," says John Carethers, chair of internal medicine at the University of Michigan.

With this new data, the fear is that there will be missed detection from the delayed screenings, and as a result, patients will be diagnosed with more advanced cancer that will be harder to treat. In addition, missed screenings are worrisome because of the increase in diagnosis for younger ages, such as colorectal cancer.

According to The American Cancer Society, in 2020, 12 percent of those diagnosed with colon cancer were under 50.  Due to the rising colorectal cancer cases among younger adults, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screenings from 50 to 45 years old.

To help combat this problem, health systems must reengage their patient populations that are due or past due for any annual cancer screenings. Here are six patient engagement strategies to reengage patients that have delayed their cancer screenings.

Patient Engagement Strategies To Reengage Patients That Delayed Cancer Screenings


Targeted Patient Outreach Campaign — Customize your communications to ensure that you reach all patients who qualify for screenings of various cancers. For example, create a colorectal outreach campaign where you send an email, text, or phone call to all patients ages 45 and older who are due for a colonoscopy.


Appointment Reminders — Reduce your no-shows and cancellations for screenings by sending out personalized appointment reminders via text, email, or phone. If a patient cancels their appointment, it gives your staff the time to fill that spot.


Online Scheduling — Enable patients to easily convert at their moment of intent by providing online scheduling for screenings. Even more, proactively schedule any necessary follow-up appointments before the patient leaves your facility by sending real-time scheduling links.


Live Voice Scheduling — Utilize patient experience experts to allow patients to schedule their screening appointments via phone. Our recent Patient Engagement Survey found that 30 percent of consumers surveyed preferred the phone as their communication channel of choice.


Social Media Campaigns — Create social media campaigns that remind patients to schedule annual wellness visits and screenings to reduce their risk of a missed detection. Capitalize on the different cancer awareness months throughout the year to further engage patients.


Classes & Events — Offer nutritional, physical activity, or educational courses to your patients to encourage a healthier lifestyle to reduce patients' cancer risk. Even more, maximize attendance to classes and events by allowing patients to self-register online and attend the classes in-person or virtually.

The impact of the pandemic on overall cancer deaths will not be evident for many years; however, implementing new patient engagement strategies to reengage patients that are due for screenings can help combat this emerging crisis. To learn more about how we can help your health system reengage patients and schedule preventative screenings, visit our Live Voice Services webpage.

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