By Suman Sinha, MD, Chief of Pulmonary Medicine at CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic

Many people avoid or delay lung cancer screenings for a variety of reasons. For some, fear of a diagnosis prevents them from seeking a life-saving, low dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan. For others, overdue lung cancer screenings are a result of barriers to healthcare resources or personalized education related to the importance of early diagnosis of lung cancer.

In any case, healthcare providers across the country struggle to effectively reach patients who meet complex lung cancer screening criteria. Since getting a lung cancer screening is the best way to catch lung cancer early, when it’s most treatable, healthcare stakeholders are invested in finding solutions. Providers are looking for ways to increase the response rate and improve lung cancer screening rates in order to generate the best possible outcomes for their patients. Targeted, HIPAA-compliant texting is one proposed tool that can improve the ability to scale patient outreach and engage targeted populations. 

 

Over three-fourths of patients with lung cancer are currently diagnosed in later stages when it’s harder to treat.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in adults in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Comparatively, other routine screenings boast much higher screening rates, including breast cancer, which hovers around 70 percent, on average. 

But, only two-to-seven percent of patients who are eligible for a life-saving lung cancer screening actually get screened, according to national averages. 

Unfortunately, low lung cancer screening rates often translate to delayed diagnoses that occur after cancer has had time to grow and spread throughout the body. Because many people delay or avoid lung cancer screenings, nearly 85 percent of patients with lung cancer are diagnosed in stages three and four. And, once lung cancer metastasizes, or spreads, it becomes much harder to treat. As a result, the five-year survival rate for patients with stage four cancer averages 13 percent.

 

Healthcare organizations struggle to engage patients eligible for lung cancer screenings nationwide. 

The low lung cancer screening rate can be attributed to a variety of challenges, from complex eligibility criteria to the stigma associated with cigarette smoking—the leading cause of lung cancer. And, the national lung cancer screening program and Medicare criteria are fairly new, given it only emerged in 2015. As a result, most healthcare organizations find it difficult to engage patients who meet screening guidelines.

Communication with patients who are at high risk for lung cancer is particularly challenging because, as a partner in your patients’ health, the last thing you want to do is generate a culture of fear. And, with trust being of the utmost importance in a patient-provider relationship, there is always a possibility for a false-positive result from a lung cancer screening which could cause a patient to feel anxiety or doubt their provider’s credibility. Lung cancer communication requires a certain level of sensitivity and transparency about outcomes, all of which makes it hard for providers to personally engage each and every patient eligible for screening.

 

Early detection through lung cancer screening can result in survival rates greater than 90 percent.

In the absence of an effective patient communication strategy, many high risk patients may continue to avoid a lung cancer screening until they begin to notice signs of cancer. Unfortunately, delayed screening gives cancer a chance to spread, making it harder to treat. Symptoms like a persistent cough, shortness of breath, or coughing up blood may demonstrate that cancer is already present and growing.

However, early detection can significantly increase your survival rate, which is why it’s so important for healthcare professionals to find ways to increase awareness of lung cancer screening to eligible patients. Patients who are diagnosed with stage one lung cancer can have as high as a 93 percent five-year survival rate. An LDCT scan of the chest is relatively safe and designed to find lung cancer in the earliest stage possible. Getting screened sooner rather than later significantly increases your chances of catching something early when it’s most curable. For many patients, stage one diagnosis has a positive outlook.

 

Texting allows you to personalize patient communication and effectively engage patients eligible for lung cancer screenings. 

As the Chief of Pulmonary Medicine at CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic in Northeast Texas, my primary goal is to help patients to prevent and treat developing or worsening disease in and around the lungs. One of the ways we do this is by leveraging technology to engage patients who meet eligibility criteria for lung cancer screenings. Central to this outreach initiative is our partnership with Providertech, through which we use secure and TCPA-compliant text messaging to guide eligible patients through the decision-making process.

Even when serving complex patient populations, nearly every patient has a mobile cell phone, giving us an opportunity to effectively deliver personalized, relevant, and well-timed messages related to lung screening straight to their fingertips. Through our engagement with Providertech, we’re able to target segments of our populations who meet screening criteria and help them navigate the steps. Providertech’s HIPAA compliant text messaging platform allows us to design customized messaging protocols that can be tailored to patients meeting specific criteria such as age, risk factors, location, last visit date, and more.

Starting with an invitation to learn more during a shared decision-making appointment, we’re able to connect with individuals via text who are at risk for developing lung cancer, utilizing behavioral economics principles in our outreach strategy. This population health strategy has significantly increased the number of patients we can establish relationships with, given the high response rate that results in a shared decision-making visit. At this visit, we can help patients understand the value of both getting screened for lung cancer as well as exploring smoking cessation options, which can greatly improve outcomes for patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer.

Following the visit, we’re able to remain connected to eligible patients and send additional reminders and resources based on the conversation at the initial visit. For many, this leads to scheduling and completing a lung cancer screening. As a result of our engagement with Providertech, several patients were diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer within weeks, allowing them to receive treatment while it is most effective. Enhancing the lung cancer screening program with secure messaging has already proven to be life-saving.

 

Use texting to form the relational foundation necessary for helping your patients seek early detection. 

When found early through screening, lung cancer treatment can be more easily treated, offering the best chance for survival and more time with family and friends. Technology is already disrupting the healthcare industry in ways that are revolutionizing the way we engage with patients. Text messaging is one way we can continue strengthening the patient-provider relationship necessary to help patients feel empowered to take control of their health. 

Lung cancer doesn’t have to be deadly. Let’s take advantage of the tools and technology within our reach to help affect outcomes for patients by increasing lung cancer screening rates.

To learn more about how Providertech can help you improve patient outcomes using texting, visit Providertech.com.

ABOUT DR. SINHA – Born in Lansing, Michigan, Dr. Sinha earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of California – San Diego, a master’s in business from the University of Phoenix, a master’s degree in molecular biology from San Diego State University, and his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. Dr. Sinha is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine , and critical care medicine. Dr. Sinha is married with two daughters. He enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, reading, and music.