HealthPartners: Closing the Gap in Health Care Disparities (Colorectal Cancer)

HealthPartners

Colorectal cancer deaths are 48 percent higher among African-Americans than among whites, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services. As a result, HealthPartners developed customized interventions aimed at reducing disparities in colorectal cancer screening rates for African-American patients.


More than ten years ago, HealthPartners began groundbreaking work to close a gap in health care and ensure that care and service is of equally high quality for all populations, regardless of a patient’s race or ethnicity, preferred language, private insurance or public program. To identify and address these disparities, HealthPartners leaders established the Cross Cultural Care and Service Task Force in 2001, and, in 2003, the health system developed a plan to collect self-reported patient demographic data to assist in creating strategies and tactics to improve care and service for our patients.

Reduction of colorectal cancer screening disparities for African-American patients

Colorectal cancer deaths are 48 percent higher among African-Americans than among whites, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services. As a result, HealthPartners developed customized interventions aimed at reducing disparities in colorectal cancer screening rates for African-American patients.

In 2009, based on new national guidelines and guidelines from the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI), a nonprofit collaborative, HealthPartners expanded the eligible population for colorectal cancer screening to include African-Americans and Native Americans at age 45 instead of 50, which added more than 1,000 HealthPartners patients who needed screening.

To screen additional patients and to close the gap, HealthPartners developed several customized interventions, including:

  • Using the race information provided by patients and the electronic medical record to automatically generate reminders to African-American and Native American patients and providers to have colorectal screening beginning at age 45
  • Telephone outreach to patients who were eligible for screening
  • The option of a fecal immunochemical (FIT) test, an evidence-based alternative to colonoscopy. The electronic medical record provides a shared decision making tool for our provider to offer the FIT test for patients who prefer it over colonoscopy.

These interventions are saving lives by improving screening disparities by payer (as a measure of socioeconomic differences) and by race. HealthPartners has seen a 27 percent improvement in colorectal screening rates for African American patients since implementation. Even with the population expansion, HealthPartners screening rates continue to rise rapidly, and are already above the 2010 HEDIS 50th percentile rankings.

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