Lay health educators within primary care practices to improve cancer screening uptake for South Asian patients: challenges in quality improvement
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BACKGROUND: Cancer screening uptake is known to be low among South Asian residents of Ontario. The objective of this pilot study was to determine if lay health educators embedded within the practices of primary care providers could improve willingness to screen and cancer screening uptake for South Asian patients taking a quality improvement approach. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Participating physicians selected quality improvement initiatives to use within their offices that they felt could increase willingness to screen and cancer screening uptake. They implemented initiatives, adapting as necessary, for six months. RESULTS: Four primary care physicians participated in the study. All approximated that at least 60% of their patients were of South Asian ethnicity. All physicians chose to work with a preexisting lay health educator program geared toward South Asians. Health ambassadors spoke to patients in the office and telephoned patients. For all physicians, ~60% of South Asian patients who were overdue for cancer screening and who spoke directly to health ambassadors stated they were willing to be screened. One physician was able to track actual screening among contacted patients and found that screening uptake was relatively high: from 29.2% (colorectal cancer) to 44.6% (breast cancer) of patients came in for screening within six months of the first phone calls. Although physicians viewed the health ambassadors positively, they found the study to be time intensive and resource intensive, especially as this work was additional to usual clinical duties. DISCUSSION: Using South Asian lay health educators embedded within primary care practices to telephone patients in their own languages showed promise in this study to increase awareness about willingness to screen and cancer screening uptake, but it was also time intensive and resource intensive with numerous challenges. Future quality improvement efforts should further develop the phone call invitation process, as well as explore how to provide infrastructure for lay health educator training and time.
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