Electronic reminders raise cancer screening rates short-term

After slamming a couple of recent studies on attempts to engage patients in their own care through passive monitoring generously called "telemedicine," we find a study that deserves some credit at least for trying to embrace a more modern form of technology.

New research, published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that screening rates for colorectal cancer jumped in the short term if patients overdue for a test received an electronic reminder message with a link to an online risk assessment tool. However, there was not much difference over a longer time period.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Washington University School of Medicine report an 8.3 percent screening rate after one month among those who received reminder messages, compared to just 0.2 percent for patients in a control group. But after four months, the gap closed significantly, with 15.2 percent of those who received reminder messages and 13.1 percent who did not receive an electronic reminder going for the colorectal cancer test.

"Patients have expressed interest in interacting with their medical record using electronic portals similar to the one used in our intervention," says lead researcher Dr. Thomas D. Sequist of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, according to HealthDay News. "Further research is needed to understand the most effective ways for patients to use interactive health information technology to improve their care and to reduce the morbidity and mortality of colorectal cancer."

A related study found better adherence to doctor recommendations among those sent a reminder letter, a brochure and a DVD about colorectal cancer via snail mail. At least nobody tried to pawn the latter off as telemedicine or slap some other techie-sounding label on it.

For more:
- read the full study in the Archives of Internal Medicine
- see this HealthDay News story, via Businessweek