Iowa Health Center Covers Transportation Costs to Increase Colorectal Cancer Screening

Photo of Holly Ziegenmeyer

“Patient care doesn’t stop if I’m not in the clinic,” says patient navigator Holly Ziegenmeyer. “Backup matters. It makes a team stronger.”

The Iowa Get Screened: Colorectal Cancer Programexternal icon partners with 10 federally qualified health centers across the state to help low-income people get screened for colorectal cancer. Federally qualified health centers provide health care services regardless of patients’ ability to pay.

Eastern Iowa Health Center is one of the health centers in the Iowa Get Screened program. Its three clinics serve about 1,600 patients who are in the recommended age range for colorectal cancer screening. In 2015, only about one-third of the clinics’ patients were up to date on colorectal cancer screening. Since then, health center staff have looked for ways to increase screenings.

Staff at Eastern Iowa Health Center urged their patients to complete a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit for colorectal cancer screening. A FIT kit is a stool test kit that can be done at home. To increase participation, staff gave out gas cards to low-income patients to help with transportation costs. Patients got the gas cards when they returned a completed FIT kit to the clinic or drove to a scheduled colonoscopy appointment. The clinics also encouraged patients to mail in their FIT kit.

Eastern Iowa Health Center changed its patient navigation process to have all colorectal cancer screening orders sent to patient navigator Holly Ziegenmeyer. She made detailed notes in the patient health record so staff knew which patients needed follow-up. Clinic staff worked as a team and could easily step in if Ziegenmeyer was out of the office.

“At the end of the day, I can leave with the reassurance someone can pick up the pieces,” said Ziegenmeyer. “Patient care doesn’t stop if I’m not in the clinic. We have experienced that backup matters—it makes a team stronger, and that is worth the time.”

By the end of 2020, 57% of patients at the Eastern Iowa Health Center were up to date with colorectal cancer screening. The health center’s patient navigation process, staff teamwork, and free transportation helped low-income patients get the care they need.