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Uptake of colorectal cancer screening by physicians is associated with greater uptake by their patients

Litwin O, Sontrop JM, McArthur E, Tinmouth J, Rabeneck L, Vinden C, Sood MM, Baxter NN, Tanuseputro, Welk B, Garg AX. Gastroenterology. 2020; 158(4):905-14. Epub 2019 Nov 1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2019.10.027


Background and Aims — Physicians’ own screening practices might affect screening in their patients. We conducted a population-based study to evaluate whether family physicians who underwent colorectal cancer testing were more likely to have patients who underwent colorectal cancer testing.

Methods — We collected demographic and health care information on residents of Ontario, Canada from administrative databases; the sample was restricted to individuals at average risk of colorectal cancer who were 52–74 years old as of April 21, 2016. We obtained a list of all registered physicians in the province; physicians (n = 11,434) were matched with nonphysicians (n = 45,736) on age, sex, and residential location. Uptake of colorectal tests was defined by a record of a fecal occult blood test in the past 2 years, flexible sigmoidoscopy in the past 5 years, or colonoscopy in the past 10 years. Patients were assigned to family physicians based on billing claim frequency, and then the association between colorectal testing in family physicians and their patients was examined using a modified Poisson regression model.

Results — Uptake of colorectal tests by physicians and non-physicians (median age 60 years; 71% men) was 67.9% (95% confidence interval [CI], 67.0%–68.7%) and 66.6% (95% CI, 66.2%–67.1%), respectively. Physicians were less likely than nonphysicians to undergo fecal occult blood testing and were more likely to undergo colonoscopy; prevalence ratios were 0.44 (95% CI, 0.42–0.47) and 1.24 (95% CI, 1.22–1.26), respectively. Uptake of colorectal tests by family physicians was associated with greater uptake by their patients (adjusted prevalence ratio, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.08–1.12).

Conclusions — Approximately one-third of physicians and nonphysicians are overdue for colorectal cancer screening. Patients are more likely to be tested if their family physician has been tested. There is an opportunity for physicians to increase their participation in colorectal cancer screening, which could, in turn, motivate their patients to undergo screening.

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