Automated outreach fails to boost colorectal cancer screening

February 25, 2010

Automated telephone outreach with speech recognition is not an effective way to increase the incidence of colorectal cancer screening, according to a study of 80,000 health plan members published in the February 8 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Automated telephone outreach with speech recognition (ATO-SR) is not an effective way to increase the incidence of colorectal cancer screening, according to a study of 80,000 health plan members published in the February 8 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Steven R. Simon, MD, MPH, and colleagues randomly assigned the health plan members to either ATO-SR or usual care, then analyzed information pertaining to the approximately 21,000 patients who previously had not been screened for colorectal cancer. Those in the ATO-SR group received one telephone call designed to relay the importance of screening, screening options, and barriers to screening. The SR technology was designed to engage patients in conversation about the topic. Patients were directed to contact their primary care physicians to schedule screenings.

The researchers measured any screening for colorectal cancer as well as the number of colonoscopies that occurred in the groups over the next year. They found that 30.6 percent of patients in the ATO-SR group and 30.4 percent of patients in the group receiving usual care underwent screening and, after adjusting for covariates, ATO-SR was shown to have no effect on screening incidence. Also, 21.4 percent of patients in the ATO-SR group underwent colonoscopies, whereas 20.3 percent of patients in the usual-care group underwent colonoscopies.

Future studies should test approaches that target both patients and their health care providers, the investigators said.