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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Patient- and system-related barriers for the earlier diagnosis of colorectal cancer

Terry L Wahls123* and Ika Peleg4

Author Affiliations

1 VA Iowa City Health Care System, Iowa City, Iowa, USA

2 Center for Research in the Implementation of Innovative Strategies in Practice (CRIISP) VA HSR&D Center of Excellence, Iowa City, Iowa, USA

3 Division Of General Medicine, Department Of Internal Medicine, University Of Iowa Carver College Of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa, USA

4 Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

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BMC Family Practice 2009, 10:65  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-65

Published: 15 September 2009

Abstract

Background

A cohort of colorectal cancer (CRC) patients represents an opportunity to study missed opportunities for earlier diagnosis. Primary objective: To study the epidemiology of diagnostic delays and failures to offer/complete CRC screening. Secondary objective: To identify system- and patient-related factors that may contribute to diagnostic delays or failures to offer/complete CRC screening.

Methods

Setting: Rural Veterans Administration (VA) Healthcare system. Participants: CRC cases diagnosed within the VA between 1/1/2000 and 3/1/2007. Data sources: progress notes, orders, and pathology, laboratory, and imaging results obtained between 1/1/1995 and 12/31/2007. Completed CRC screening was defined as a fecal occult blood test or flexible sigmoidoscopy (both within five years), or colonoscopy (within 10 years); delayed diagnosis was defined as a gap of more than six months between an abnormal test result and evidence of clinician response. A summary abstract of the antecedent clinical care for each patient was created by a certified gastroenterologist (GI), who jointly reviewed and coded the abstracts with a general internist (TW).

Results

The study population consisted of 150 CRC cases that met the inclusion criteria. The mean age was 69.04 (range 35-91); 99 (66%) were diagnosed due to symptoms; 61 cases (46%) had delays associated with system factors; of them, 57 (38% of the total) had delayed responses to abnormal findings. Fifteen of the cases (10%) had prompt symptom evaluations but received no CRC screening; no patient factors were identified as potentially contributing to the failure to screen/offer to screen. In total, 97 (65%) of the cases had missed opportunities for early diagnosis and 57 (38%) had patient factors that likely contributed to the diagnostic delay or apparent failure to screen/offer to screen.

Conclusion

Missed opportunities for earlier CRC diagnosis were frequent. Additional studies of clinical data management, focusing on following up abnormal findings, and offering/completing CRC screening, are needed.