Throughout the course of the pandemic, patients delayed their routine screenings in an effort to stay safe. Because the health and safety of patients and staff are always principal concerns for clinicians, many primary care physicians were telling patients that it was okay to put off their colonoscopy. Now that vaccines are available and the severity of outbreaks is waning, it is time for patients to catch up on their screenings. Getting patients back into screening will take some effort, and primary care physicians will play a major role in the effort.
COVID-19 hit all practices hard. By April of 2020, patient volumes in physician practices dipped as much as 30 to 75 percent. Many patients saw their doctors only for significant problems and put off screening tests, such as screening colonoscopy. Alarmingly, nearly 200,000 people had missed their colonoscopies by October of that year.
7 Ways to Promote Colonoscopy and Other Screenings to PCPs
Promoting colonoscopy and other screenings to area doctors is relatively easy, but requires a little planning. Here are just a few ways you can encourage PCPs in your community to promote health screenings, including colonoscopy.
1. Introduce yourself to new physicians or providers in the area
Back in the old days, a “Welcome Wagon” would greet new residents with a basket of treats and a handful of coupons from nearby businesses. Tasked with the overwhelming job of setting up their new homes, busy residents would often call on the businesses listed by the Welcome Wagon first before looking for others in the area.
The same concept works for physicians new to the area. Setting up a practice requires a significant amount of work, and doctors new to the area would likely be eager to establish a relationship with specialists quickly. Once you establish a working relationship with the new doctors, encourage them to refer patients for screening.
2. Send a letter
Write a letter to primary care physicians in your area, encouraging them to promote colonoscopy and other GI-related screening. In your letter, give them information that they can pass along to their patients about colorectal cancer rates and the benefits of screening. Be sure to include any information that would facilitate the referral process for colonoscopy and other screenings, such as phone numbers and referral forms.
3. Build relationships with area PCPs
The relationship between a PCP and specialist is usually limited to information exchange specific to the patient referrals process – the PCP writes the order directing the patient to see the specialist, and the specialist sends the test result back to the ordering physician. In larger institutions or communities, the doctor simply selects the name of a specialist from a list of specialists approved by the institution or the patient’s insurance network. This system is adequate, but not perfect – in an ideal world, doctors would prefer to send their patients to a specialist they know and trust.
Starting and building a professional relationship with your local doctors is easier than you might think. Simply establish communication through calls, emails, and in person. Engaging in the referral process will help strengthen the relationship, as will participating in community health events together. These professional collaborations help build trust between PCP, specialist, and patients.
4. Provide PCPs with GI-related educational items for their office
Create eye-catching brochures, pamphlets, and business cards that provide information on gastroenterology in general and GI screenings in particular. Office collateral, such as promotional pictures, visual aids, business cards and door decals that bear your GI practice name, helps promote your practice and services. For best results, keep office collateral and educational items focused on GI screening.
5. Hold community events that promote screening
Work with area doctors to hold events promoting screening of all sorts, but especially GI screenings. These events can feature many of the same educational items and office collateral you are sending to PCPs. During these events, encourage physicians to offer information about digestive problems and promote GI screening.
6. Build a physician outreach program
Consider building a web application that allows participating PCPs, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to look up physician-level information about gastrointestinal diseases, GI testing procedures, recent research into digestive diseases, GI medications, and more. Programs like these establish your gastroenterology clinic as the area professionals that doctors can turn to.
7. Present your services as a way to boost patient volume in private practices
Practices of all sizes and types are looking for ways to boost patient volume and profits. Pique their interest in your practice by presenting your screening services as something that could help them evolve their practice without a heavy investment. After all, keeping patients healthy through screening is good for everyone.
Promoting the importance of screenings to primary care physicians may be one of the best ways to build your endoscopy practice. Getting patients back to routine screening can help our healthcare system get back on track and back in business.