How Colonoscopy & Preps are Indicative of Patient Activation and Health Care Decision-Making

I found two recent studies on bowel preps interesting primarily because of how they help us understand problems with utilization and problems with patient motivation.

The first study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 443-50) utilized a 5% random national sample of Medicare claims data.  The authors determined that among 57,597 Medicare beneficiaries 66 years and older that underwent screening colonoscopy (not therapeutic) 24.8% of these procedures were performed in individuals with a life expectancy <10 years.  Given the nature of the study (eg. relying on administrative data), there were several limitations.  However, the implication of the study is that there are a lot of unnecessary colonoscopies.  That is, screening colonoscopies are intended to interrupt a sequence of adenoma to adenocarcinoma that can take years; even when cancer is present, it can take several years before the onset of clinical symptoms.  Currently, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against routine screening in those aged 75-84, precisely because the benefits of screening may be outweighed by the risks of screening.”  The authors note that “people with multiple comorbidities (and therefore lower life expectancy) are more likely to visit multiple providers, which increases the chances of receiving testing.”

The second study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 451-57) showed that patients with lower “patient activation” are much more likely to have a poor colonoscopy preparation.  Patient activation is defined as “an individual’s knowledge, skill, and confidence for managing his/her own health and health care.”  The author’s note that the “Patient Activation Measure (PAM) is a validated scale developed…to measure this construct.” This cross-sectional study took place in Chicago between 2008-2010 at either an academic practice or a ‘federally qualified health center.’ Key findings:

  • One-third of patients (n=134/462 adults) had suboptimal quality of bowel preparations. Of these, 15% (n=62) were fair quality and 17% (n=72) were poor quality.
  • After multivariable analysis and adjustments, patient activation (OR 2.12) and diabetes (OR 2.45) were independent predictors of suboptimal bowel preparation quality.
  • Health literacy (a measure of cognitive skill) was not correlated with patient activation (a measure of patient engagement).

Also noted in same journal issue: Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 470-77.  “In a supervised setting, nurse endoscopists perform colonoscopies (after a minimum of 100) according to quality and safety standards that are comparable with those of physician endoscopist and can substantially reduce costs.”

Take-home messages:

  1. Poor bowel preparations are common.  In studies of adult patients, split-dose preparations can help.  The associated editorial (pg 458-462) recommends delaying case and considering further oral prep or enemas for patients arriving with stool that is not clear or yellow.
  2. Colonoscopies are performed too frequently in some patients and not frequently enough in others.  Thus, something as simple as a colonoscopy is not so simple.

Related blog posts:

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