When it comes to fighting disease, Community Health Centers often employ strategies from the bottom up, at the grassroots level. That’s what happened last March when the Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA) collaborated with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to boost screening rates for breast and cervical cancer through providing additional support to Community Health Workers (CHW) at Federally Qualified Health Centers in Michigan. The seed money for the project, totaling $250,000, was distributed to eight health center sites with the goal to increase awareness and screening for breast and cervical cancer among disparate populations.
Community Health Workers at participating sites took an individual approach to get the word out to their patient population. “Many of the approaches the health centers took were very creative,” said Sara Koziel, Clinical Program Specialist at MPCA. “For instance, one health center hosted an informational booth at a Women’s Health Fair. Another created brochures and pamphlets about the screening program, or offered incentives such as gift cards after screenings were completed.”
There were a variety of challenges to confront that ranged from electronic health records (tracking and implementation), quality improvement, patient flow and outreach. Yet, each health center developed an appropriate plan of action to succeed. Koziel added “There was a focus on community outreach, but CHWs also worked within their own health centers to track patient referrals for breast and cervical screening, looking for ways to improve patient satisfaction, increase referral numbers, and ensure adequate and appropriate follow up with the patient.”
Follow up with patients revealed common barriers to getting a screening — lack of transportation and financial resources. In some cases patients did not return follow up phone calls from the center because there were limited minutes on their phones. Fear was another factor. “Many uninsured women choose not to have preventative services because they don’t have room in their budget for any follow up appointments, so it is better not to know,” reported one Community Health Worker at Baldwin Family Health Care. “By allowing us to offer limited follow up services and the security of knowing there are more supportive programs if needed, these women will sometimes face their fear and complete their screenings. We have been able to quickly connect women with abnormalities to the appropriate program(s) for follow up and this peace of mind is reassuring and valuable.”
The efforts are paying off. A midpoint review of the project data revealed breast cancer screenings within the target populations were up by 36 percent. And while the complete year end numbers are still being collected, the positive midpoint results were encouraging enough that the project has been extended another year with an increase in funding and an expansion of service sites.
Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re writing about innovative ways health centers are fighting breast cancer with early screenings, education, and outreach. If your health center is doing something to help fight this disease, let us now and we’ll write about it on this blog.