EMRs an 'IT backbone' for improved cancer screening

Both doctors and officials with the National Cancer Institute are hoping that electronic medical records can play a vital part in improving cancer screening around the nation. Earlier this week, NCI awarded a $6.3 million grant to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Health & Hospital System in hopes that Parkland's EMR system can serve as an "IT backbone" in colorectal cancer screening efforts, particularly for uninsured or underinsured patients.

The effort is part of a larger project by NCI known as PROSPR--Population-based Research Optimizing Screening through Personal Regimens--that ultimately intends to improve screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers. NCI plans to set up nine to 12 PROSPR sites around the nation, with the UT Southwestern-Parkland site projected to reach more than 32,000 residents in the Dallas area.

Dr. Ethan Halm, chief of general internal medicine at UT Southwestern, hopes to see the screening model created through these efforts eventually used on a national scale. Parkland's EMR, he says, helps make that particular site "one of the few places in the country that can conduct this sort of comprehensive cancer screening program for a safety net population."

This is not the first time that EMRs have been used to improve various healthcare screening efforts. An EMR-based program at two family practice clinics run by Geisinger Health System was able to triple the rate of osteoporosis screenings in women in 2006.

And last year, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that mining primary care EMRs to find patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease was just as effective--and much less expensive--in preventing heart disease than a plan for massive screening would have been.

To learn more:
- read this UT Southwestern announcement