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This article appears in the March 2021 issue of the

PE GI JOURNAL

March 22, 2021

Communicating the need for screenings this Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Gastroenterologists have known since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that there is a decrease in routine colon cancer screenings and other elective GI appointments. Research by komodohealth, however, has provided striking statistics showing just how serious patients choosing to forgo or delay their preventative care during the height of the pandemic is:

  • Screenings dropped by roughly 90%
  • Colorectal cancer diagnoses dropped by over 30%
  • 18,000-plus people are now at risk of missed or delayed diagnoses for colorectal cancer, the only preventable cancer that has a 90% survival rate when caught early

Why Is There a Decrease in Screenings?

Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had an obvious effect on the reduction in GI procedure volume in 2020. But to increase your procedure volume and get back to pre-pandemic numbers, the solutions are complex.

There are only two ways to have missed so many appointments and procedures: cancellations initiated by physicians in order to adhere to certain guidelines at the time or cancellations initiated by patients. Assuming all physician-initiated cancellations are rescheduled, you’ll need to look at the root of patient cancellations—three different types of patient concerns:

  1. Fear of COVID-19: Patients and/or their loved ones may be part of a more vulnerable population taking extra precautions.
  2. Financial Woes: Patients are experiencing loss of jobs, and in turn health insurance, at staggering rates. In situations where patients have retained health coverage, pocket money for co-pays may be dwindling, meaning their elective appointments and procedures are not a financial priority.
  3. Feeling Overwhelmed: Even if patients are not highly affected by health or financial worries, they are certainly feeling overwhelmed generally—who isn’t? Appointments may be lost in the shuffle of a pandemic, remote working and schooling, and life. Regain their attention and emphasize the simplicity and benefits of maintaining GI health.

There are multiple ways to address these patient concerns and get them back in for their appointments and procedures.

Over-Explain

While you and your staff have always explained instructions and managed patient expectations, now is the time to over-explain. You do not want to leave room for any patient worries that may cause them to think twice about coming in for their visit.

Over-explain precautions.

Don’t assume that at this point of the pandemic patients will know about all the extra precautions you are taking. Lay out everything for them—from how frequently disinfection occurs to the measures your own staff must follow daily. Always include language that refers to the authority you are following, like “in compliance with CDC guidelines,” “adhering to all state and local regulations,” and/or “in accordance with ASCA guidelines.”

In addition to explaining these precautions prior to an appointment, show them. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth over 1 million. If you take the time to put together visual explanations of your adherence to guidelines, maximize their value by leveraging them across different platforms. Post on your website, upload to social media pages, send via email and text. You can even send postcards with your precautions for upcoming patient visits via direct mail.

Over-explain insurance and billing information.

Prepare answers in advance for insurance and billing questions that are coming up more often during the pandemic. Provide everyone interacting with patients with key talking points to respond to concerns regarding finances and lost insurance. Always refer patients to places they can get their questions answered when insurance and billing questions fall outside the scope of your facility’s expertise. Going above and beyond to ensure patients understand these aspects of their care can have a big impact on their overall experience.

Over-explain the ease of the visit.

In an increasingly stressful world, where marketing and outreach messages are constantly trying to break through the noise, your patients may be overwhelmed. It can go a long way to remind them of how simple their visit and procedure will be. For example, many patients may forget that their total time at your center for a colonoscopy is usually less than three hours, or that their bowel preparation is not the days-long horror that they’ve heard about. Being able to speak candidly and honestly to reassure patients that they should not delay their care is just as important as developing your formal patient outreach strategies.

Don’t Shy Away from Spending on Patient Outreach

While budgets may be tighter than ever, the marketing budget is not one that can afford to be reduced right now. Instead, maximize the ROI of your marketing spend with an approach fully focused on patient outreach with both digital and print direct mail campaigns. Now that you’ve curated your over-explained patient messages, spread these on every channel.

Even without targeted direct mail or sponsored social campaigns, there are less expensive options available for getting your message to patients. Did you know that your facility’s Google My Business listing now has a place for COVID-related updates? You can post critical updates, including links to longer messages, in the dedicated space on your listing. You can also post organic social media content that engages patients with your facility. Remember to join digital conversations with platforms that have larger followings to boost your visibility—for example, engage with other colon cancer awareness posts that share the importance of screenings amid the pandemic.

Don’t underestimate the impact of digital and offline reputation management. Always reply to any online criticism, especially when it includes criticism of your COVID precautions. Set the record straight, politely and professionally, for future patients to see when they read reviews. Offline, provide patients with your print materials to share with peers.

Lean on a Corporate Partner

If you have a corporate partner that offers marketing services, ask about the tools available to you. PE GI Solutions, for example, built a customizable toolkit for our 60-plus GI physician partners to spread the message of patient safety during COVID-19.

PE’s toolkit includes:

  • Patient safety video
  • Website messaging
  • Text-alert messaging
  • Social media messaging
  • Patient instructions for COVID testing
  • Patient letter
  • PPE guidelines for personnel
  • Information on COVID vaccines

Your corporate partner should be delivering patient outreach tools like these so that you focus on what’s most important—delivering the preventative colon cancer care that will save lives.