Clearing up the confusion about screening exams

Last week, a pair of articles published in the mainstream press illustrated the sense of confusion that healthcare consumers must feel about cancer screening tests.

A column in Forbes written by a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine ran under the headline, "Should Mammography Be Abolished?" Meanwhile, another commentary by Daniel Kopans, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and senior radiologist in the Breast Imaging Division of Massachusetts General Hospital, ran in the Wall Street Journal with the headline, "Mammograms Save Lives."

It's a safe guess that any confusion associated with cancer screening isn't limited to breast cancer. For example, several weeks ago, the Medicare Evidence Development & Coverage Advisory Committee (MEDCAC) declined to endorse Medicare coverage for low-dose CT (LDCT) lung cancer screening, even though the United States Preventive Services Task Force gave LDCT lung cancer screening its recommendation late last year.

What is the general public supposed to think?

With that in mind, a group of radiologists decided to launch a program--described recently in an article in the Journal of the American College of Radiology--in which they held one-hour educational sessions covering breast, lung and prostate cancer screening for small groups of the general public. After each session, the participants responded to surveys asking them about their level of satisfaction with the education session, as well as how it impacted their understanding of cancer screening.

The results were illuminating. More than 95 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the sessions increased their level of understanding, while more than 87 percent said they felt more prepared to undergo screening tests. In addition, 88 percent said they gathered information that they didn't obtain in clinic visits, while 96 percent said that seeing radiology images increased their understanding of cancer screening tests.

As we have seen, the public is being bombarded with information about screening tests--some of it inaccurate, most of it difficult to understand, and much of it bound to confuse patients and leave them with questions that need to be answered.

It bears repeating: Patients who are wondering about screening tests need to be able to talk to healthcare professionals and ask questions about which screening tests make sense for them

And who better to answer these questions than radiologists? It seems that programs like the one described in JACR could serve as models for radiology practices that are interested in helping to answer those questions. - Mike (@FierceHealthIT)

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