04:37am Wednesday 23 October 2019

An eye on prevention

Cancer screening can improve the length and quality of life, but the average American receives only half of recommended cancer preventative services.

However, improved personal health records could help increase the number of patients receiving screenings. Records that link patients with their doctor’s records, explain information in lay language, display tailored health recommendations and provide educational resources would allow patients to better understand their screening options and seek them out.

Virginia Commonwealth University has received a multi-year, multi-phase grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to measure whether making these resources available to primary care physicians and patients promotes shared health decision-making and increases the delivery of cancer screening compared to existing information systems.

“Evidence-based preventative services for the early detection of cancer and other health conditions offer profound health benefits, yet Americans are receiving only half of these services,” said Alex Krist, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the VCU School of Medicine and principal investigator of the NIH grant. “The research team developed an interactive personal health records system that uses its higher functionality to more deeply engage patients in health promotion.”

The research team will study whether implementing personal health records with higher levels of functionality will better inform patients and increase the use of preventative services.

“However, realizing this vision in practice requires both technological updates and physician practice engagement. Our prior work in Virginia doctor offices demonstrated that patients who used this new interactive system were more up-to-date with preventative care,” said Krist, who is also the director of the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research Community Engagement Core. “This grant will allow us to continue our work by evaluating whether the new system with higher functionality can be implemented in a larger number of practices. We’re also interested in looking how its adoption and use differs for minority and disadvantaged patients.”

The project consists of two phases. During phase one, the team will randomize 46 physician practices from three practice-based research networks in eight states to implement personal health records with advanced versus simpler functionality. They then will assess the new system’s implementation, including how well the system is adopted and used by patients.

In the second phase of the project, the networks will offer the new interactive system to a larger number of its patients. The team will observe whether the networks can successfully implement this system more broadly.

“This project will evaluate whether a unique online information resource, designed in partnership with doctors and patients, can effectively empower patients and be broadly implemented and disseminated, particularly in physician practices serving disadvantaged patients,” Krist said. “The study will inform future efforts to use patient-centered information technology to promote cancer prevention and the feasibility of offering it to patients on a national scale.”

By Frances Dumenci
University Public Affairs

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