The Growth Channel

Top three screening questions answered by our experts

by Vanessa Lo

Hospitals have prioritized screening program development across their service lines to promote better outcomes and minimize the burden of disease growing among the aging, multi-morbid population. However, with so many players involved and new screening methods—like the recently FDA approved first non-invasive screening test for colorectal cancer—entering the market, starting a screening program does not come without its challenges. Organizations often struggle to manage the “worried well” of patients that flock to screening events and follow up on the incidental findings that screening generates.

Our members often ask us, “Are screening programs worthwhile?” and “How do we make sure they are successful?” We recently sat down with the Imaging Performance Partnership’s Manasi Kapoor to discuss our recent research on screening programs and share lessons from successful programs.

Vanessa Lo: Manasi, can you start by commenting on which service lines have seen the most success with screening programs?

Manasi Kapoor: Hospitals have seen the most success with their cancer screening programs where early detection has a substantial impact on survival rate. For example, many organizations are investing in lung cancer screening programs as previously there was no effective screening method for detecting lung cancer and as such patients were often diagnosed at a late stage. With the advent of low-dose lung cancer screening, however, organizations have the potential to change this paradigm and improve patient outcomes.

Other service lines have developed screening programs to capture volumes, but have not seen the same success as oncology. Many programs, such as vascular programs, are unable to leverage a strict set of criteria—like that for cancer tumor sites—to narrow their cohort for potential screening patients and, as a result, struggle to achieve screening return on investment (ROI).

VL: Given that patients are often multi-morbid, have you seen any program utilize screening programs to refer across specialties?

MK: One hospital we spoke to struggled to garner buy-in from their PCPs for their lung screening program. Recognizing that their cardiology group often treated patients that may be eligible for lung cancer screening (age criteria and smoking history), the program decided to target that specialty group for lung screening referrals. After screening, patient results reports are sent to the cardiologist and PCP in follow-up. The PCPs appreciated the consistency of screening results report and began referring to the lung cancer screening program. As a result, the program saw a surge in lung cancer screening volumes.

VL: That said, can you tell us what the keys to success are for developing a successful screening program?

MK: First and foremost, program leaders must make sure they have a data-driven process to identify a specific cohort of patients who would benefit from screening. In the absence of established societal guidelines, define narrow patient criteria to target high-risk populations. 

Secondly, develop a comprehensive marketing campaign that demonstrates the benefits of screening. Next, make sure the referral process is as easy as possible for PCPs. Finally, think outside of the box when identifying patient populations. A number of screening programs have targeted employers or organizations that cater to high-risk patient populations. For example, one organization chose to target veteran organizations given that Vietnam veterans are at an increased risk for lung cancer.

Want more on screening programs?

Attend one of the Imaging Performance Partnership national meetings to learn more about the hallmarks of successful screening programs.