Phone calls more effective to remind people of colon cancer screening

Phone calls are significantly more effective than text messages and letters at reminding patients about cancer screenings, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Screening patients aged 50 to 75 for colon cancer improves chances of catching the cancer early, but many patients delay or forget to get screened. In this study, researchers evaluated the rate of colon cancer screenings following reminders sent by phone, text or letter.

The study enrolled 2,700 patients who were overdue for a colon cancer screening and sent them test kits by mail. Roughly 10 percent of kits were completed and returned within three weeks. Patients who did not return their completed kits were sent one of seven reminders that included a phone call from a clinic worker, two automated calls, two text messages, a single reminder letter or a combination of interventions.

Results showed a phone call from a clinic worker was significantly more effective than text messaging or mail in reminding patient to return kits within six months. Phones calls resulted in 32 percent of patients returning their kits, this rate was most effective in English speaking patients, while Spanish speaking patients benefited most from both a phone call and two automated calls.

"We knew that these patients are not as text savvy as younger patients, but we didn't expect text messaging to do so poorly, compared to the other strategies," said Gloria Coronado, PhD, lead author and cancer disparities researcher with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. "Text messaging is a relatively inexpensive way to send patient reminders, but for this group it was also relatively ineffective. Our study shows that one reminder intervention doesn't necessarily work for all patients. We need to design interventions tailored to the patient's language and cultural preference.”