Crystal Light & SEPTA tokens boost cancer tests
PHILADELPHIA, PA., March 6, 2012 (WPVI) -- Sometimes simple ideas can yield big results when it comes to your health. A pilot program at Penn is getting results, using soft drink mix, SEPTA tokens, and laxatives to improve colon cancer screening rates.
After Crystal Marshall turned 50, her doctor, Eliot Nierman, a Penn Medicine internist, recommended a colonoscopy to screen for cancer.
But Crystal was afraid of the unknown.
"I heard horror stories about drinking this concoction that tasted like chalk," Crystal says.
"I put it off, and put it off - for 2 years," she adds.
Then she got a call from Alicia Lamanna, a Penn Medicine patient navigator. She works with a pilot program underway in West Philadelphia.
It is aimed at erasing some of the hurdles that cause patients like Crystal to put off colonoscopies.
Alicia explained the preparation process and the test, step by step.
"She really dispelled all the myths," Crystal says.
Alicia also followed up with reminder calls, and was with her through the test.
Patients also get free prep laxatives, Crystal Light to drink those with, and SEPTA tokens.
That's in case a patient has no other way of getting to the hospital.
The whole kit costs just $20 to assemble.
Dr. Carmen Guerra, who developed the program, says patient navigators improve screening rates from 10 to 20%.
And she says problems are being caught.
"Half of the people we've put through the program actually had some kind of abnormality in their colonoscopy, including one patient who had colon cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was in its early stages," Dr. Guerra says.
She says people have many misunderstandings about colonoscopies.
"A lot of people think it really must hurt, or that they will have general anesthesia," she says.
"The truth is, they are only sedated, and they are given a second medicine so that they will forget the procedure."
"So, many of them wake up asking, 'When are we going to do this?'" she continues.
"They feel well, and that's a reason why they shouldn't have colon cancer screening," she says. "They think that's for people who have symptoms."
Dr. Guerra says her team is trying to address one more need - those who don't have a ready escort to the test, because they live alone.
"We've thought about trying to establish a community network, churches volunteers with church vans. We're hoping to make some progress in that area, as well," she says.
Crystal got a clean bill of health, a relief to her and her doctor.
Anything we can do to help support people, to make it easier for them, is useful," says Dr. Nierman.
"I'm tellin' all my friends to get it done," Crystal says.
Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years after age 50, up to 74. They should start at age 45 for African-Americans.
To take part in the West Philadelphia GI Health Outreach and Access Program, call 215-439-8281 or email patient navigator Alicia Lamanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The pilot program is funded through grants from the American Cancer Society and the Walmart Foundation. Dr. Guerra hopes to get more funding, to expand it beyond West Philadelphia, and to offer it to more patients.
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