Screening Reminders Help Indiana Clinic Save a Life

The RIGGS Community Health Center in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

The RIGGS Community Health Center in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.

A 43-year-old woman in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, visited the RIGGS Community Health Center.external icon She wanted to talk to a doctor about a problem with vaginal discharge. Clinic staff noted she was past due for her cervical cancer screening test. When they brought this to her attention, she got the screening done at the same visit.

This story demonstrates the health center’s new focus on getting its women patients screened for cancer, as recommended. The health center serves people who have a low income. Many of them do not know why cancer screening is important.

The Indiana Breast and Cervical Cancer Programexternal icon (part of CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program) helped staff at the health center get more women screened for cancer. The program suggested strategies that worked well in other clinics.

Health center staff looked at the medical records of all women with an appointment, no matter what the reason was for the appointment. If a patient was due for a cancer screening test, the doctor offered to screen her at that visit or to schedule the test later.

The patient with vaginal discharge who was offered a screening test had early-stage cervical cancer. She was referred to a gynecologic oncologist right away and started cancer treatment in less than a month. When cervical cancer is found early, treatment works best.

In 2020, fewer patients made appointments for routine health care than in 2019. During this time, staff members called women on the phone to schedule appointments for cancer screening tests. As a result of these reminders, the percentage of patients who were up-to-date with cervical cancer screening went up from about 65% in 2019 to 87% in 2020.

The health center also made cancer screening reminders a part of its nurse practitioner residency program. This change will help make sure reminders are done in the future.

“This project has changed the way I practice,” said April Fife, a nurse at the health center. She plans to train nurse practitioner residents to make sure they don’t miss opportunities to help women get screened for cancer.

Page last reviewed: January 4, 2021