Reducing Structural Barriers Planning Guide

This evidence-based intervention (EBI) is designed to lessen or eliminate non-economic obstacles that make it difficult for people to access cancer screening. Reducing structural barriers increases access to cancer screening. Examples include—

  • Modifying hours of service to meet client needs.
  • Offering services in alternative or non-clinical settings such as mobile mammography vans at worksites or in residential communities.
  • Eliminating or simplifying administrative procedures and other obstacles; for example, offering scheduling assistance, patient navigation, transportation, dependent care, translation services, or decreasing the number of clinic visits.

Process Flow

Implement and integrate structural changes to reduce obstacles to screening.

Reduce or eliminate structural barriers.

Outputs and measures for implementation and integration will be specific to the intervention design

Patient seeks screening services.

Potential challenges include a long distance to a screening facility, limited transportation, a burdensome scheduling process, community distrust of the medical field, and the facility is not accessible to those with disabilities or lacks translation services.

Output: Increased screening appointments by patients.

Measure: Appointments among eligible patients

Example: Number of patients scheduled for screening appointments divided by the number of patients due for screening

Example: Number of patients showing up for screening appointments divided by the number of patients scheduled

Patient completes cancer screening.

Potential challenges include inconvenient clinic hours, limited capacity or resources to follow-up on abnormal screening results, patient fear, cost, and lack of transportation.

Outcome: Increased screening and diagnostic tests completed by patients.

Measure: Screening completion

Example: Number of patients completing screening divided by the number of patients referred for screening

Example: Number of patients completing diagnostic follow-up divided by the number of patients with positive screening tests

Increased cancer screening.

Outcome: Increased clinic-level rates of cancer screening.

Measure: Age-eligible clinic population up-to-date with recommended cancer screening

Example: Uniform Data System (UDS), Healthcare Effectiveness Data Information Set (HEDIS), National Quality Forum (NQF) 12-month measure used to calculate screening rate

Community Guide Recommendation

The Community Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) recommends interventions that reduce structural barriers to increase screening for breast and colorectal cancers.2

Settings Where Intervention Was Studied1

  • Urban, suburban, and rural areas in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Israel.
  • Community centers, senior centers, retirement centers, churches, academic and non-academic affiliated primary care practices and hospitals, and health maintenance organizations.

Outcomes from the Systematic Review of Effectiveness1

  • Completed mammography increased by a median of 17.7 percentage points.
  • Completed colorectal cancer screening (any test) increased by a median of 36.9 percentage points.
  • Cost (in 2009 U.S. dollars)—
    • Mobile mammography ranged from $63 to $150 per woman screened, and the number of women screened affected cost.
    • Cost per additional screen by FOBT was between $63 and $425, and the cost-effectiveness ratio estimated at $3,000 to $4,000 per year of life saved.

Components of the Intervention

Identify Patients and Community Members Due for Screening

  • Has a priority population been identified?
  • Can patients who are due for screening be identified using the EHR or other patient record system? Is there access to patients’ date of birth and date of last screening test?

Identify Barriers to Screening

Is there a needs assessment for the priority population that can identify common structural barriers or obstacles?

Design a Barrier-Specific Resolution

  • Have stakeholders (partners and community members) been asked for their input?
  • Are there working relationships or formal partnerships with organizations that can address these barriers?
  • Is the resolution feasible?

Track Individuals Through Screening Completion

  • Is there a way to track whether the provider recommended or ordered a screening test?
  • Is there a way to track patients through screening and diagnostic test completion?
  • Has a method and tools for tracking been identified or created?
  • Have appropriate and feasible performance measures for process and outcome evaluation been selected?

Resources to Support Implementation


  • The type of barrier being addressed influences the number and type of partnerships.
  • For transportation to a screening site, partnerships included individuals or organizations that used vans, taxis, or other modes of transportation.
  • To bring mobile screening units into community settings, partnerships involved owners of the screening units and screening sites (such as retirement centers, senior meal sites, churches).
  • Intra-clinic relationships reduced the scheduling burden; for example, information technology (IT) and billing department, medical directors, office managers, and front desk staff.
  • Support for scheduling follow-up testing involved partnering with organizations that employed navigators or coordinated volunteer navigators.
  • Community-based organizations committed to publicizing or providing services for the program.


  • Providers (physicians, nurses, technicians) to order or deliver testing or interpret results.
  • Program managers to orient or train staff, explain the program, and assist individuals.
  • Individuals to identify those due for screening and send invitations or reminders.
  • Navigators or community health workers (paid or volunteer) to provide individualized help to those due for screening.


  • Method to identify eligible individuals for screening: electronic health records (EHRs), patient database, state drivers’ license database, resident list at senior centers or meal sites, or church rosters.
  • Paper and postage (if needed) for invitations to screen; the letter may refer to a navigator or contain a pre-scheduled appointment.
  • Audience-relevant educational materials about the test and its role in early detection of cancer, including instructions for at-home test kits.
  • Mobile mammography units or transportation to the screening site.

Patient Surveys

  • Determine the distance patients would travel for a screening test.
  • Assess stage of decision-making; used to tailor messages to the individual.
  • Identify common obstacles to inform the specific intervention.

Lessons Learned from the Literature1

  • A continuous quality improvement (CQI) plan can streamline the number of steps between referral and test and help with sustainability of the process.
  • Due to one-time, fixed costs associated with implementation, the first year of operation for mobile mammography programs is generally more expensive.
  • The missed appointment rate decreased with barriers eliminated.
  • Tailored navigation increased screening for older individuals.
  • Latinas and Asian women were more likely to have a mammogram after a health education session if a van was onsite.
  • The intensity and complexity of these interventions depend on how many organizations or organizational units are involved.
  • The most fundamental partnerships were with providers (primary care and specialists), health care systems, and laboratories.

Ways to Strengthen Performance or Sustainability1

  • Prompt individuals with reminders and help them make appointments.
  • Educate prospective patients about the testing process, location, and any preparation needed for the test.
  • Identify an individual’s stage of decision-making and tailor messages to match.
  • Reduce out-of-pocket costs to the client.
  • Make structural changes a matter of policy or standard workflow.


1Sabatino SA, Lawrence B, Elder R, Mercer SL, Wilson KM, DeVinney B, Melillo S, Carvalho M, Taplin S, Bastani R, Rimer BK, Vernon SW, Melvin CL, Taylor V, Fernandez M, Glanz K, Community Preventive Services Task Force. Effectiveness of interventions to increase screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers: nine updated systematic reviews for The Guide to Community Preventive Services. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2012;43(1):765–786.

2Community Preventive Services Task Force. Updated recommendations for client- and provider-oriented interventions to increase breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2012;43(1):92–96.

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